by Tim Cummings
1 Border pipe (Highland pipes and low-whistle can be substituted on occasion)
1 fiddle, with bow
1 Mac Morin
Choicest old Scottish and Cape Breton tunes
Choicest freshly composed tunes
Talented guest musicians
Marinate siblings in a rich combination of Cape Breton-Rankin and South Uist-Currie genealogy. Make sure both can play each others’ instruments as well. Let cure for 20-30 years. Mix with choicest tunes. Add Mac. Season with guest musicians, to taste. Place mixture into a good studio, with a lid on tight. When a CD has formed, preheat stereo volume to #11, spin for one hour, and serve with a cold bottle of Schooner.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, I have happy news for you: this recipe is for real, and you’re invited to the meal! Indeed, Kenneth and Angus MacKenzie, two exceptionally talented brothers from Mabou, Cape Breton, have produced a tremendous album of piping and fiddle music. The album is aptly named, Pìob is Fidheall (Pipes and Fiddle).
Angus and his remarkable piping will be familiar to many of you, as he is the piper for the well-known folk band, Daimh. Angus, who happens to play fiddle as well (but not on this album), is prominently featured on both pipes and whistle. His playing, as usual, is some of the best you’ll hear anywhere—it is deadly accurate, and he manages to “drive” tunes better than any other piper I’ve yet heard.
Kenneth, who happens to play the pipes as well (but not on this album), offers some superb fiddling to equal his older brother’s piping; and that is no small feat. There is a maturity to his playing that is rare among many younger fiddlers, a depth which may have something to do with his strong piping background and 20-odd years of being steeped in unprocessed Cape Breton music.
The sets these two have chosen are an inspired mix of lesser-known tunes, with the dance tunes being delivered in the fiercely energetic style that is so typical of Cape Breton musicians. Further, Mac Morin—the pianist for both Natalie MacMaster and Beòlach—is their main accompanist, and has added his characteristically ingenious and skillful support for the two brothers. Other musicians sprinkled on the album include their youngest brother Calum (piano), Ross Martin (guitar), Paddy Gillis (guitar), Shelly Campbell (fiddle), Boyd MacNeil (bouzouki, banjo), and Mattie Foulds (drums).
The CD itself is very nicely packaged, complete with detailed liner notes about all the tunes and their sources. All tracks were expertly recorded, mixed and mastered by Mike Shepherd of Lakewind Sound Studios. With this in mind, I would encourage you to get a hold of the actual, physical CD, rather than downloading compressed and information-less mp3s.
If I were forced to make any criticism of this album—and it would have to be at gunpoint—it would be that we’re deprived of any of Kenneth’s skillful piping on this album. I’ll just assume he’s saving that for the next course…
In short, this is a very rich, complete, and unusually successful record, one that belongs in the home of every piper and anyone interested in fine Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling. It is also a superb resource for anyone looking for both inspiration and new repertoire. As Iain MacDonald wrote in the liner notes, “…this is as good as it gets.” I rarely get this excited about a CD, and recommend it unhesitatingly.
Pìob is Fidheall is available from capebretonlive.com for North American listeners, and both footstompin.com and musicscotland.com for listeners in the UK, EU, etc. For digital downloads (and again, I’d encourage you to go for the real CD), go to CDBaby.com
A Few Clips from the CD:
Tim Cummings is a teacher, performer, workshop leader, arranger and composer of piping and Celtic- related music who lives in Vermont.