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Joseph Cormier and J.P. Cormier
Velvet Arm, Golden Hand
Patio (

On average, the quality of musicianship in Celtic music is pretty high. With so many fiddlers playing just dandy, who might be considered really outstanding?

Originally from Chéticamp, Nova Scotia, Joe Cormier was one of the first Cape Breton fiddlers to record for an American commercial label. He records here thirty years later with his nephew and fellow fiddler J.P. Cormier, sideman to the stars. It's not just the skill and effortless fluidity that makes this traditional dance album such a pleasure, but the sparkle of abandon that goes with each set. (Though at times the fiddles squeek so much you might think they are using fish oil instead of rosin on their bows.) Cormier and Cormier are not simply interpreting traditional music, it appears they are living it.

Velvet Arm, Golden Hand is a party album full of party tunes. Perhaps the best track and a good example is a set of tunes known collectively as J. Scott Skinner's (The Strathspey King, the man who fiddled standing on his head) "Sir William Wallace." The Cormiers tackle the strathspey's unending syncopated ornament with devlish glee, then hit the heavy downbeat on 4/4 reel, backed with piano and guitar rhythms and a bit of tambourine. As this is dance music, a given set might begin slow or fast, but typically ends a fast tune. For example, the "Killieccrankie" set begins slowly with that lovely old melody, but almost regreatably moves on to bouncy but less noble reels. Joe's solo set starts out the same way, with Skinner's slow dark strathspey "Corgarff Castle," and moves on in tempo to "An Angus Strathspey." Not all the tunes have a striking melody, but enough do to allow the listener's mind to linger.

Sometimes Joe and J.P. play fiddle together and sometimes solo. From the solos, Joe seems to have more of an edge and plays more off-scale; J.P. may sound a little sweeter and "better" to some ears, and he's mixed in some more contemporary backing. J.P. also plays a number of instruments and most of the accompaniment is done by him, sharing the piano role with his wife Hilda Chiasson-Cormier. To break the fiery monotony of an album of Scots dance tunes, three live sessions are inserted in critical places. These really do sound nicely hollow and conversation-rumbly like a dance bootleg, but are of good enough quality to actually excel as a paragon of the sense of fun evident on Velvet Arm, Golden Hand. - Judith Gennett

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