Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy – One album review

Natalie MacMaster

Canadian fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are a husband and wife team with over twenty five years of musical experience between them. MacMaster alone has eleven studios albums to her name and while the couple have played together live across both North America and the UK, it is only recently that they’ve finally been able to collaborate on their very own record. Produced by Bob Ezrin, the soon to be released One is a stunning compilation that puts a nice contemporary spin on some classic Celtic motifs.

There’s no hint of burdens or worries as things get going with “St. Nick’s”. This upbeat opener begins with rousing percussion before the fiddles set in to establish a happy and carefree atmosphere. “The Chase” is a lot more dire and urgent, taking off at an immense pace. After easing up around the halfway mark, the momentum builds back up and bounds towards the finish line.

“The Whistler of Rosslea” takes a mellow and ominous approach. Solemn fiddles unfold slowly but steadily, conveying an intensity of emotion as they do. Upon arrival at the midway point, the tempo ups considerably, adopting a more optimistic disposition. There’s plenty on offer throughout, all of which is full of depth and character.

The air becomes lighter during “Pastiche for Anne”, being well suited for encouraging people onto a dancefloor. Once again, the piece gets faster as it progress, seeming thrilled with itself as it does so. “Fiddler’s Despair” blasts off at a stunning velocity in its wake. The addition of electric guitars makes for a mixture of rock and trad that works fantastically. The mesmerising agility of the instrumentation results in a sensory overload in the best way.

“Hector the Hero” abates to conjure up a solemn, contemplative atmosphere. It’s an extremely introspective and beautifully affecting composition that hits hard and sounds huge. “Wedding Day Jig”, on the other hand, is a lively and animated number brought to life by complex instrumental work. This emanates a sense of seriousness and determination while still managing to feel festive and celebratory.

There’s something quite eccentric about “Ellin Polka” as it develops a cool but delightfully hectic rhythm. It’s followed by the contented attitude of “Joyous Waltz”; an innocent and harmless offering that trots along without a concern in the world. “Tribute to Buddy” picks up with a jubilant beat that bounces forward exuding a great feeling of elation and satisfaction.

Being almost comedic in nature, the bright aura of “Clog Medley” invites you to sit back and smile as it relieves you of any weight you may be carrying upon your shoulders. It’s “Cagaran Gaolach” that really sets itself apart though by abandoning all elements of instrumentation in favour of a remarkably resonant melody. In its aftermath, “The Balkan Hills” is a suitably loud and boisterous finale. Playing like a victory parade, it completes the collection with a wonderful feeling of triumph.

In listening to what they’ve managed to achieve here, it’s easy to appreciate why Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are considered to be two of the world’s finest fiddlers. The incredibly stirring and motivational delivery of their material exhibits amazingly accomplished and exciting string work. It’s all but guaranteed to win over anyone who listens to it, regardless of their preferred musical genre. Make sure you experience One for yourself when it drops on April 28th.