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Bringing the world home

By Stephen Cooke – Halifax Herald

Natalie MacMaster returns home to Cape Breton with some musician friends to open the 10th Celtic Colours International Festival.

IN ITS 10 years of existence, the Celtic Colours International Festival
has become one of the most impressive traditional music events in North
America, bringing talent from around the world to this remote corner of
the continent.

And every year, visitors from all over come to hear the brilliant
musicians, enjoy the breathtaking autumn scenery and feel the warmth of
Cape Breton hospitality.

And it’s impossible to imagine any of it happening without the
groundwork laid by Cape Breton musicians and international ambassadors
like the Barra MacNeils, the Rankin Family, Ashley MacIsaac or Natalie
MacMaster, who kicks off this 10th anniversary on Friday night at the
Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.

A native of Troy on Cape Breton’s western Ceilidh Trail, MacMaster
returns to the festival from her current home in Ontario with husband
Donnell Leahy to perform shows and catch up with musical friends.
Usually she appears on the Celtic Colours roster every couple of years,
and she knew there was something special about the event from the very
first time she stepped out onto the stage of one of its many concerts.

“My favourite moment at Celtic Colours was the concert I did with
Sharon Shannon,” says MacMaster, citing the famed Irish accordionist.
“It was in Port Hawkesbury, the first year of the festival, and it was
a Gaelic Women show. I just really enjoyed playing with Sharon Shannon,
she’s amazing.

“Celtic Colours is great, it’s a celebration of music, and our culture,
and the best part about it is how it takes place all over the island.
People from away, and even locals, get to go around the island, and
they’re not just stuck in one place all the time. And of course there’s
always good music, and interesting ways of pairing up musicians to keep
it sounding fresh.”

For her hand-picked roster of guests on Friday night in Port
Hawkesbury, MacMaster has included U.S. banjo innovator Bela Fleck, who
appeared on her 2003 CD Blueprint, in his Nova Scotia debut; Galician
bagpipe virtuoso Carlos Nunez, whose jaw-dropping performances have
been a Celtic Colours favourite for the past few years, and
chart-topping Australian soprano Hayley Westenra.

“We’ve got some surprises too, I’ve got some surprises up my sleeve,”
says MacMaster excitedly about the show, which will also be recorded
for broadcast by PBS. “They’re going to be . . . you know what? This is
such a corny term, but it’s so true, there will be some magical
moments. And I mean it, it’s true!”

The surprise up MacMaster’s other sleeve is her new CD Yours Truly,
which landed in record stores yesterday. Recorded largely with her
touring band, it features vibrant, road-tuned performances with Brad
Davidge’s guitar bursting forth on Volcanic Jig and the sound of Matt
MacIsaac’s pipes dancing with MacMaster’s nimble fiddle on Matt and
Nat’s.

Over the past few albums, MacMaster has managed to give each record its
own singular taste, from completely traditional to contemporary Celtic
blends. On Yours Truly, it’s a more balanced sound thanks to the use of
the musicians she knows best.

“I don’t always think they’re going to be as unique as they turn out to
be,” says MacMaster. “I did the Buddy and Natalie record, and that was
totally trad, so this year I had a lot of tunes that I was writing that
weren’t so traditional, and believe it or not I actually liked them.
That’s rare for me, I usually toss them.”

There are special guests on the record, including sister-in-law Erin
Leahy and aunt Betty Lou Beaton on piano, First Nations entertainer Tom
Jackson on vocals and former Doobie Brother Michael MacDonald on a
stirring rendition of Danny Boy, that came about after the two
performed on a Boston Pops TV special.

But the best guest clip of all is a cute vocal contributed by
10-month-old daughter Mary Francis on the final track, an instrumental
piece that closes out the album.

“It’s not really a tune, it’s more of a mood piece, and Donal said I
should make it a little thing at the end where I say thanks to everyone
who helped out with the record.

“It was really hard at that point to get anything out of her, she was
so young — just over a week old. So it was hard to get her. There’s a
bit of crying, you don’t want the wail where she’s going ‘WAAAAAH!’ you
just want a cute little cry, so it was fun picking the clips.”

Copyright © 2006 The Halifax Herald

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