April 30, 2005

Refreshingly understated

The Piping Album
Matt MacIsaac
CD MAC-78-78-04

Reviewer's rating: 4.5 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Andrew Bonar

The Piping Album by Matt MacIsaac is the newest recording to come from the Canadian Maritimes. As the title indicates, it is a recording of piping, and there are no other instruments on any of the tracks. This is simply Matt MacIsaac and his beautifully-tuned, well-balanced bagpipe. In a time when most recordings seem to be attempting to try something different, it was very refreshing to sit back and listen to a very talented piper play his bagpipe.

Throughout The Piping Album, MacIsaac plays many traditional classics and with a few of his own compositions. The CD begins with a march, strathspey, and reel comprising “John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage,” “Tulloch Castle,” and “Sandy Cameron.” From the start of the first track, the tone of the bagpipe and the quality of execution from Matt’s hands demands respect.

MacIsaac then plays three traditional 6/8 marches, and these are a great example of what 6/8 marches should sound like. Every young piper should take a listen to this track and learn something about 6/8 march playing.

Next is a set of three hornpipes, beginning with Donald MacLeod’s “Dr. MacInnes’s Fancy” and ending with “The Drunken Landlady.” MacIsaac plays one of his own compositions, “Lynn Sutherland,” in the middle. The creativity he gives to added embellishments is difficult to describe. MacIsaac clearly has one of the best sets of hands in the world and he uses them to their maximum ability. He then plays a set of three classic jigs: “The Snuffwife,” “The Geese in the Bog,” and “Donella Beaton.”

The Piping Album continues with two four-part strathspeys and two four-part reels. “Cabar Feidh” is nicely expressed, “Susan MacLeod” seems effortless, “Major David Manson” flows very well, and “Roderick MacDonald” finishes the set in style. He then plays two hornpipes, “P-M George Allan,” another Donald MacLeod tune, and the rarely-heard traditional tune, “The Golden Wreath.” MacIsaac does an amazing job of keeping the flow consistent throughout the very difficult third and fourth parts of the latter hornpipe. Matt follows them with a set of four classy marches in 3/4 and 4/4 time.

The melodic “Gaelic Air” opens the next track, with the jigs, Donald MacLeod’s “The Old Woman’s Dance” and MacIsaac’s own “The Firedrill” following. He keeps The Piping Album going with a creative rendition of “Rocking the Baby,” followed by another of his own compositions, “Victoria Road.” Along with these two jigs, MacIsaac finishes with a maximum velocity version of “The Mason’s Apron.” This tune of course has been recorded many times before, but never quite like this, with Speed, execution, flow, and a few totally new parts.

The Piping Album is very enjoyable. The bagpipe and the playing are first-class throughout, and tune selection is excellent. Most listeners will recognize many of the classics and, therefore, will appreciate Matt MacIsaac’s playing ability.

A frequent contributor to the Piper & Drummer, Andrew Bonar is one of North America’s top solo pipers. He has been a member of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band for the better part of 30 years, and is a member of the music advisory board of the British Columbia Pipers Association. An air traffic controller by profession, he lives in North Vancouver with his wife and daughter.


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