The Living Tradition, November 2015

Private Label

This young fiddler from Cape Breton Island is a former pupil of the late great Jerry Holland, and has a taste for the traditional as well as a good helping of quirky modern tunes.  

Marches, reels and strathspeys by Marshall, Skinner and Mackintosh sit among a rake of Jerry Holland tunes and a number of anonymous classics. There's a fair dollop of Irish here too.  Spootiskerry, The Banshee and Anne Lacey open proceedings, followed by a pair of old Scottish jigs sandwiched between compositions from Jerry Holland and Liz Kane. Jigs and clogs, strathspeys and reels, plus two slow airs - Liz Carroll's Island Of Woods, and Lonesome Eyes, another of Jerry's great melodies.

Gillian's fiddle style is vigorous, aggressive even, not as polished or finessed as many Nova Scotian players, but full of energy and drive. There's an element of rock'n'roll, reinforced by the strong backing on guitar, piano and drums. Ryan J MacNeil's whistle is the only extra melody: Ms Head carries the tune throughout, with no hesitation. She employs a more delicate tone on the slow airs, but shuns a pretty-pretty approach.  Spirit is at its best when the keys are vamping and the drums are thumping. The CD peaks on an impressively powerful MSR set starting with The Duke Of Fife's Welcome, and Gillian puts a lot of elbow grease into Ross Ainslie's Taybank Shenanigans and the final trio of Jerry-style jigs. Play it loud, and put your dancing shoes on!

-Alex Monaghan

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