Music All Around
Brenda Stubbert
Cranford Publications CP-2003-1

Brenda Stubbert: fiddle, piano; Stephanie Wills: piano, fiddle; Stewart MacNeil: flute, accordion; Eddie Woodsworth: acoustic bass; Paul MacDonald: guitar.



Review by Mark Sustic
Fairfax, Vermont

Brenda Stubbert is one of the primary present-day practitioners of the Cape Breton style of fiddling, a unique style of music proudly dominated by fiddle as lead instrument and piano as primary accompaniment. The style has been popularized in recent years by young fiddlers like Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, and longer than that by exceptional fiddlers like Natalie's uncle Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, and Joe Cormier. Peel away those more well-publicized names and you find literally hundreds of truly exceptional fiddlers and accompanists who have influenced and been influenced by each other in a spirit of mutual support and superb musicianship. Cape Breton fiddling is a style characterized by consciously constructed sets of airs, jigs, marches, strathespeys and reels, each tune in a set played no more than a couple of times through, culminating in a thrilling crescendo of energy and tempo. The tunes are a combination of original and traditional compositions with titles that read like an Cape Breton atlas of places and personalities, all with lineage to the traditional music the settlers of Cape Breton brought with them from their native Scotland. Except for the airs, the sets and tunes have the primary function of accompanying dancers. It has been said by some that the Cape Breton style is an acquired taste, but for those who step through its imposing but welcoming doorway, it offers a spectacularly rich, seemingly limitless range of unmistakable beauty, energy and passion. It is style of music that is unapologetic about its standards, with a take-no-prisoners approach not designed for the timid or weak of heart.

This is Brenda's fifth solo recording (others available through Cranford Publications), attractively packaged, and including all the essential information typically found on Cape Breton recordings these days (Cranford Publications gets a chunk of the credit for setting this standard) ….. biographical information about and photos of Brenda, set titles for those content with not knowing the exact tune names, and a set-by-set description of all specific tune titles, composition and source credits. Narrative notes from Brenda with each of the sets helps bring the tunes and the life of a modern-day Cape Breton fiddler alive.

The recording quality is top notch, the fiddle front and center, as it should be, with the piano and other accompaniment clear and well balanced. The sets range in length from just over three minutes to as long as seven and a half. Cranford Publications hosts a terrific web site for Brenda which includes, among other things, a sampling of tunes in three formats (GIFs, ABCs and MIDI, a link plays back in your browser), as well as links to additional tunes by Brenda and other Cape Breton artists in ABC (explained on the web site if you are new to the format). Brenda's playing is pure and strong throughout, a fiddler's fiddler with a unique repertoire and unwavering focus on what's most important in the tunes she has selected, 14 of which are her own compositions. A couple of nice changes of pace are the 4th cut when Stewart MacNeil joins in as lead voice on the flute (not common in Capte Breton recordings), and the 9th cut, where Stephanie joins in for some double lead fiddling and Brenda provides the piano accompaniment.


Mark Sustic
Stubbert's recordings | Brenda Stubbert's Collection of Fiddle Tunes


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