Album Review - Celtic Fiddle Festival / Live in Brittany

Celtic Fiddle Festival. Live in Brittany, 20th Anniversary Concert.
2013. Loftus Music.

Hard to believe it's been 20 years since the first Celtic Fiddle Festival album. I must have been 12 or 13 years old and I got that first album for Christmas. I put it on that night, and listened to it over and over on my little yellow walkman. I just couldn't believe the music. The swiftly flowing and wickedly twisted fiddling of master Irish musician Kevin Burke, the inherent stomping beats in the fiddling of Johnny Cunningham, and of course the utterly haunted and eerie fiddle tunes from Breton master fiddler Christian Lemaître. It helped set me down the path of a lifelong love of Celtic fiddling, and each fiddler became a touchstone to me. Sadly, Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham passed away some years ago, but his replacement, young Québécois fiddle powerhouse André Brunet was a godsend to me. His fiddling was so explosive and full of joy, that it reaffirmed how much I loved the music of French Canada, the music of my own heritage. Honestly, for me, the be-all-and-end-all of Celtic music is Celtic Fiddle Festival. I can't think of a better band.


Their new album, Live in Brittany, only serves to cement their reputation. The general idea of Celtic Fiddle Festival is to bring three grandmasters (and one master guitarist: Breton Nicolas Quémener in this case) together on stage and give them both a chance to shine individually and a chance to showcase their group arrangements. Thus each fiddler here gets a track or two just them and guitar, and there are four tracks where they all play together. It's hard to say which aspect of the album is better: the solo or the group. Solo, Kevin Burke's understated genius really comes through. As he gets further into a lifelong career that's seen him rise to the top as one of the very best living Irish fiddlers, he seems less and less interested in the traditional Irish trad album structures, where rarer and rarer tunes are sourced or original tunes composed if there aren't enough rare tunes found. Rather, he's taking victory laps here around the track of some very old chestnuts. Which isn't a bad thing at all. With Burke at the helm, these old tunes take on an entirely new life. "Galway Bay" and "Drunken Sailor" (both from the unique fiddling of Tommy Potts) are utterly sublime here and could both serve as primers on how to bring a transcendental beauty to traditional music. Christian Lemaître is in fine form as ever, bringing forth a goodly number of new, creepy Breton tunes. His slow airs are still some of the most haunting fiddling I know. And of course André Brunet brings his irrepressible energy back to the group. First with a set of lovely French-Canadian jigs (called 6/8 or "six-huits" in Québec), and then with two gorgeous and lush waltzes from his own pen. I've always felt that French Canada has the market cornered on intricate and beautiful waltzes, so it's nice to hear them get their due here.

The whole album was recorded live at an intimate concert in the ancient Breton town of Guémené-sur-Scorff, where guitarist Nicolas Quémener lives (I should mention too that Quémener turns in a truly beautiful set of guitar-picked fiddle tunes on the album). The setting and atmosphere of the concert can be felt through the recording and it all adds up to another stellar outing from Celtic Fiddle Festival. Whenever I hear their music, I'm taken back to that Christmas 20 years ago when I first discovered the magic of Celtic music. I hope you'll feel some of that magic too when listening to this album.

Celtic Fiddle Festival: Gavottes 'Swing'


Celtic Fiddle Festival: Galway Bay/The Drunken Sailor


 

BUY THIS ALBUM DIRECT FROM LOFTUS MUSIC
 

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