The fiddle is one of the world’s more portable instruments. It is also one whose sound is often heard as recalling the human voice, and certainly often found in compliment to singers. Those are all reasons why travelers, emigrants, and players both classical and folk in many countries take to the fiddle. Have a listen.
Alasdair Fraser plays the the bright sound of the small fiddle. Natalie Haas is expert on the darker sound of the big fiddle. otherwise known as the cello. That combination was common in Scotland several centuries ago, but then became rare — until Fraser and Haas decided to see what they could do with the sound. They choose music both contemporary and traditional, both tunes they compose and ones they source. The title track on their album Highlander’s Farewell is a traveling tune itself, starting in the Highlands of Scotland, moving across Ireland and finishing up in the Appalachian mountains of North America. There are tunes from Cape Breton in Atlantic Canada, from Galicia in Spain, from France, and from all over Scotland in the mix, too.
Mariel Vandersteel knows a good bit about traveling, and fiddle playing as well. The California native studied at Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon fiddle camp in her native state, in Ireland, in Norway, and in Boston, where she’s now based. You may hear all those geographies in the music she chooses for Hickory. The title track is a fast paced tune from the old time song bag, which finds good company with Three Forks of the Cumberland, a tune written by Dirk Powell, whose influences include old time and Cajun music. There are Norwegian tunes both haunting and quickstepping, and a fine pair of Vandersteel originals as well.
Laurie Lewis is a world class, award winning singer and songwriter. When she was thinking about doing an album to honor the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, she could have easily chosen a program of his songs, but she took another tack: Lewis sought out the ideas behind his song choices and the sources he went to.
Her fiddle, guitar, and voice ring clear through music from the American folk and country songbook, several tunes from contemporary writers, and several of her own songs on her album Skippin’ and Flyin.’. It’s a selection you have to think Monroe would have approved. Linda Ronstadt and Tom Rozum are among those who sit on on songs including Pharaoh’s Daughter, American Chestnuts, and Blue Moon of Kentucky. Think you don’t like bluegrass? Give a listen to Lewis and friends and you just might change your mind.
photo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas by Kerry Dexter
photo of Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum by Hali McGrath
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