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Girl Power reigns at Celtic Colours

By Stephen Cooke – Halifax Herald

Lamond, Dares, MacIsaac, Casey, Fraser, Stubbert bring pleasure to Marion Bridge

SUNDAY
NIGHT’S Celtic Colours show at the Marion Bridge Recreation Centre
(a.k.a. the town fire hall) was not my first in that particular venue,
so it’s a safe bet that the last concert review from the town on the
Mira River already talked about “the pleasure it brings,” as the song
goes.

But history repeated itself on Sunday with another fine mix
of homegrown and international talent at a show titled Girl Power, with
the Gaelic trinity of longtime friends Mary Jane Lamond, fiddler Wendy
MacIsaac and Tracey Dares on keyboard, fiddlers Brenda Stubbert and
Kimberley Fraser, plus Irish songbird Karan Casey.

Thankfully
there’s no glass ceiling in Celtic music, and if there was it would
have been soundly shattered by the bows and voices of these world-class
performers. Lamond joked that she would start the evening with a dour
lament, since everybody was having such a good time so far.

“That’s
me, the Gaelic killjoy,” she sighed, launching into the haunting tale
of a woman whose husband and father are drowned at sea, performed with
Lamond’s usual lyrical grace. Her ability to invoke pathos without
milking it never fails to amaze me.

The set became a little more
lighthearted with a tune Lamond called “the quitting your job song . .
. or the pogey song” about a sailor who disobeys the captain’s order to
climb up and repair the topsail in heavy weather. He’d much rather
reach port alive so he can marry his girl, although there’s no word if
he received a taste of the lash in the meantime.

It wouldn’t be a
Mary Jane Lamond set without an unrequited love song, and she noted
that this particular song inspired an older man to come up to her after
a show and remark, “That’s how it is with the Gaelic songs; the boy’s
always singing to the girl, and she’s not there!”

Still she might hear it if it was sung like Lamond; strong and rich in tone, and never overly sweet or cloying.

Dares
and MacIsaac took the spotlight as well during the first set, starting
with the Castle Bay pianist’s slow air Mira Melody, continuing with
MacIsaac’s march written for her grandmother Hugheena. No one on the
island plays slow airs on piano better than Dares, and MacIsaac’s
fiddling picked up steam without losing those perfectly placed cuts of
the bow which soon set heads nodding in rhythm and feet dancing beneath
chairs.

Cape Breton fiddle fans got a double dose with a set by Stubbert and

Fraser,
each accompanying the other on the keyboard. Fraser, home from her
studies at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, played jigs teeming with
life, full of winking grace notes and delicate bowing.

Fraser
then paid tribute to beloved fiddler and composer Jerry Holland with a
fine rendition of his My Cape Breton Home. “He’s in all our thoughts
right now, so I thought it’d be a good time to play this,” she said of
the ailing fiddler, before investing the familiar melody with a deep
sense of longing. Then her tunes got faster, and her bowing more
rambunctious and inventive, using every inch of the violin’s neck,
ultimately earning her a standing ovation.

Then Stubbert took
over the fiddle spot, dedicating a set of bold jigs to her father
Robert, who has also been in poor health recently. Then it was a group
of marches and strathspeys with Stubbert’s slight bending of each note
giving the flow of notes her joyful signature sound.

And for the
icing on the cake after a hearty standing ovation, Stubbert and Fraser
stood toe to toe and played each other’s fiddles with their own bows.
Sure, it’s a party trick, but a darn impressive one at that, and a
sight audience members, from as far away as Louisiana and Japan, won’t
likely forget.

Casey wrapped up the evening with her lush,
expressive voice, giving a contemporary spin to age-old tunes. While
it’s tempting to describe the Waterford native’s voice as being clear
as crystal, the truth is, it bore a soft burr, more like the hint of
peat you taste in a fine Irish whisky.

Her songs ranged from the
lament of a woman whose love has been pressed into service with The
King’s Shilling — “It’s a very good time to be singing anti-war songs
with the madman you have below you,” she remarked — to a beautiful a
cappella As I Went Out Walking, which turned the hall so quiet you
could hear a kilt pin drop.

Casey also benefited from able
backing from keyboardist Caoimhin Vallely, guitarist Robbie Overson
and, in only her second night with the group, fiddler Liz Knowles, who
played a rousing instrumental set that showed how little difference
there is between one side of the pond and the other.

Copyright © 2007 The Halifax Herald

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