Hi How Are You Today?

Ashley MacIsaac

A & M Records, 1995


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Occasionally you can tell almost everything you need to know about a CD from its cover art -- or, in the case of Ashley MacIsaac's American debut CD, the artist's photo. In full colour glory on the back of the case, we have a picture of the Cape Breton fiddler-rocker, unshaven, in grunge flannel, combat boots... and a kilt.


That one image summarizes MacIsaac neatly, an oddly fascinating juxtaposition of traditional Celtic fiddling and fly-in-the-face-of-tradition pop and rock. On his only CD available in the U.S., hi™ how are you today, he merges the two traditions almost seamlessly into music that alternates between lyrical and quirky, subtle and forceful, and it's a delight to listen to, so long as you have an open mind.

MacIsaac is no slouch as a traditional fiddler. His versions of "MacDougall's Pride" and "Hills of Glenorchy" are as sweet as anything ever put on CD, and the haunting darkness of "Sad Wedding Day" (with guest vocalist Mary Jane Lamond) puts the pablumate version from Riverdance to shame.

It's when MacIsaac tosses tradition and modernity into the blender and hits 'puree' that things get surreal, and in this case surreal works. From the CD's opening track, the techno-trance-fiddle reworking of "Sleepy Maggie", through the metal-laced "Devil In The Kitchen", to the arching guitar of "Brenda Stubbert", MacIsaac proves that the boy in the kilt can rock as well. Credit should be given to his supporting musicians, especially the guitar of Gordie Johnson, the bass of Pete Prilesnik, and the vocal presence of Mary Jane Lamond (whose Enyaesque vocals cloy somewhat by themselves, but add needed depth here).

The greatest praise, though, has to go to "Wing-Stock", which literally takes my breath away; the gentle piano intro by Joel Chaisson sets you up, and the lashing fiddle of MacIsaac knocks you over, and you're left in the dust, blinking with shock and glee at the sheer power of the music.

Kilt and flannel combined, MacIsaac is a joy. I just wish A&M would get off their corporate duffs and release more of his work in the US. Traditional fiddlers may roll in their graves, but the rest of us will be too busy dancing to care.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.