In My Hands

Natalie MacMaster

Rounder Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


The return of fiddler Natalie MacMaster to the recording studio was greatly anticipated, given her growing fanbase in both Canada and the United States. MacMaster, one of the new generation Cape Bretoner/Celtic artists, has already recieved acclaim and awards for her past recording, including a Juno award for best instrumental recording for her 1998 CD, My Roots Are Showing. MacMaster's new release, In My Hands, doesn't disappoint; a powerful piece of work, it shows her continued development both as a voice for the traditional Scottish music of Canada's Cape Breton region, and as an artist who's not afraid to take some risks.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Cape Breton's unique and somewhat isolated culture has produced several young musicians of note, including MacMaster, fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, and family vocalists The Rankins. The area's fiddle playing is unique, an intermixture of the Highlands area of Scotland and two hundred years of Canadian development. MacMaster's music is partially the traditional of her uncle, Cape Breton legend Buddy MacMaster, and partially... well, put it this way; the opening track, "In My Hands", is a spoken vocal from MacMaster, a funky bass backbeat, heavily overdubbed female background vocals, and a virtuoso arrangement of the traditional tune "The Drunken Landlady." Authentic? No. Traditional? No. Amusing? Hell, yes.

This sets the tone for the entire CD. For every traditional fiddle arrangement, such as "Welcome To The Trossachs," the hard-driving "Gramma," or "The Farewell," there are departures, chances taken, risks ventured. MacMaster dips into Spanish influences with the brass-laced "Flamenco Fling," drifts off into synthesizer-laden ambient music on "Space Ceilidh," and blisters the speakers in her fiddle duet with Nashville legend Mark O'Connor on "Olympic Reel." There seems to be no trail MacMaster is afraid of blazing; she gives a brief nod to everything but heavy metal on this album, apparently content to leave that to genre mate MacIsaac.

The crowning jewel of this work, though, is the brilliantly executed and flawlessly paired duet with American bluegrass vocalist Alison Krauss, "Get Me Through December." Krauss' voice is poignant and filled with a crystalline emotional clarity, and matches perfectly with MacMaster's simple, expressive fiddle. Before this work, the two Rounder stars had never met, but their musical compatibility is immediate and breathtaking. Let's hope it happens again.

In My Hands is a creative, joyful, and magnificent piece of work from one of the brightest stars of Celtic music to come along in a long time. Perhaps her roots were showing on the last CD, but In My Hands is a roadmap straight through the branches into the open sky.

Rating: B

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© 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 Rounder Records, and is used for informational purposes only.