Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is an odd place to find Scottish culture preserved in amber, but that’s exactly what’s happened. In fact, in some ways Cape Breton has preserved more of Scottish culture than Scotland itself, especially when it comes to the threatened language of Scottish Gaelic.
Seinn means ‘sing’ in old Scots or ‘sing along’. It’s the title given a new collaboration by two long time Cape Breton friends, or is it family? I’m never really sure because the family trees on the island have grown interwoven throughout history. There you’ll find the most famous family names in Celtic music like Barra MacNeils, Rankins, MacIsaacs and MacMasters and they all seem to be distantly related in some way or another.
Wendy MacIsaac is cousin of fiddling firebrands Ashley MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster, and has forged her own signature way around the rosin and bow. On Seinn she partners with another staple in Cape Breton music with whom she’s made music many times, Scottish Gaelic singer, historian and teacher Marry Jane Lamond. In 2005, Mary Jane treated ears to the album Storas, an exquisite and landmark collection interpreting Scottish waulking songs and airs. Coincidentally, in Icelandic, seinn means ‘late’, ‘slow’ or ‘longtime coming’. 7 years after Storas, Seinn treats us to Mary Jane’s lovely lilt once again, along with Wendy’s deep-rooted fiddling, in another achingly gorgeous set of 12 melodies and songs.
The press has been deservedly glowing in their praise of the principals’ performances. Many scribes have remarked on the effortless chemistry between the two, a sixth sense that is no doubt a product of the Cape’s tight-knit community I spoke of at the outset. Much has already been said about the “post modern pastiche”, as Singout Magazine describes the arrangements on Seinn. This is in no way a disc of just voice and fiddle. Checking the sleeve, I count 18 additional musicians involved in the project. What I find most remarkable in its absence is a production/engineering credit. To my ears, the sound quality and breadth of the stereo perspective on Seinn is jaw-dropping for an independent release. Through my simple stereo system, I was hearing instruments coming out of the adjacent walls causing me to spin round and do a double take. Seinn provides a template for how folk tradition can find new relevance in skilled hands working with modern underpinnings and advanced high fidelity.
by Cal Koat