Review: Natalie MacMaster’s ‘Sketches’ is a masterpiece


Natalie MacMaster’s playing astonishes by its simultaneous warmth and killer edge.
Mark Pucci Media

Juno and Grammy Award winning violinist Natalie MacMaster has been wowing audiences with her prowess since the age of 10.

She kept her eyes and ears open over the next 37 years by fiddling across a musical rainbow with Alison Krauss, the Chieftains, Yo-Yo Ma, Carlos Santana and others, all the while enjoying a highly successful career as a traditional soloist. Praised for her beautiful ways with the Celtic-like instrumental jigs and reels of her Cape Breton, Nova Scotia home, MacMaster presents an album of just that, her emotions played through violin, with subtle guitar accompaniments.

The album’s 12 “Sketches” vividly conjure lush, verdant landscapes that could very well be Ireland, alive with promise no matter the wide range of moods offered, or those elicited. Its mix of original and traditional songs are what MacMaster refers to as “A moment of joyous appreciation inspired by years of parenting, marriage, friendships, music and life.”

She’s surely succeeded in presenting herself. Each title comprises several separate melodies, segued seamlessly. “Killiecrankie” is but one of the 12 suites that magnificently illustrates the approach. The main theme by one Thomas O’Connellan floats in on a breeze — MacMaster cites it as one of her favorite fiddle melodies ever — before moving into and through “Welcome to Your Feet Again,” “Rothiemurchus Rant,” “Auld Stewarts of Fothergill,” “Married Behind the Bar,” and “Blind Nora O’Nell, each rowdier than the previous over a seven-minute run.

MacMaster’s playing astonishes by its simultaneous warmth and killer edge. Marvel as she honors the Cape Breton square dance tradition with “Fill ‘er Up for a Set,” a triple-tune skip you’ll definitely skip to. MacMaster makes any melody one you’ll want to hear over and over again. In a world or in a day of turmoil, this album is peace.

-Tom Clarke

  • Natalie MacMaster
    Linus Entertainment
    Nov. 1, 2019
  • On tour
    November 29, 2019  Opera House, Waterville, ME ^
    November 30, 2019  Newton Theatre, Newton, NJ ^
    December 3, 2019  Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Burlington, VT ^
    December 4, 2019  Fine Arts Center Concert Hall, Amherst, MA ^
    December 5, 2019  Quick Center, Fairfield, CT ^
    December 6, 2019  Grunin Center For The Arts, Toms River, NJ ^
    December 8, 2019  Hylton Performing Arts Center/Merchant Hall, Manassas, VA ^
    December 10, 2019  Weis Center For The Performing Arts, Lewisburg, PA, ^|
    December 11, 2019  Majestic at the Jennifer and David LeVan Performing Arts Center, Gettysburg, PA^
    December 12, 2019  Clair Performance Hall, Winter Visual & Performing Arts Center,  Millersville, PA^
    December 13, 2019 The Cabot, Beverly, MA ^
    December 14, 2019  Staller Center For The Arts, Stonybrook, NY ^
    December 15, 2019  Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA ^
    December 17, 2019  Macky Auditorium Concert Hall, Boulder, CO ^
    December 18, 2019  UCCS Ent Center For The Arts, Colorado Springs, CO ^
    December 20, 2019  Lensic Performing Arts Center, Sante Fe, NM ^
    ^ Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy’s A Celtic Family Christmas

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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