Elise Boeur & Adam Iredale-Gray – Fiddle Tunes : Album Review

Exactly what it says on the box, with some bass. And oodles of panache and aplomb.

Release date: 25th November 2022

Label: Fiddlehead records

Format: CD/digital

I love me a bit of fiddle, and I know some of you do too, so here is a brace of Canada’s finest players, along with some sterling bass to give some ballast. And no messing, it is nothing but Fiddle Tunes from start to finish, drawn from varied traditions, broadly Scandi, but some Irish and homespun US for good measure. Partners in life and on stage, Elise Boeur and Adam Iredale-Gray have form. Adam has been a member of acclaimed roots band. Fish & Bird, hailing from Mayne Island, off the coast of British Columbia, and home to a mere 900 souls. Adept on fiddle and guitar, he also teamed up with Elise (and the harp player, Màiri, sister of Brighde, Chaimbeul) to form neo-folk trio, Aerialists. (Neo-folk? In this context think Radiohead meet Spiro.) This album removes the electric rhythm section of the latter, losing none of the electricity, the players on acoustic fire. Elise, like Adam a graduate of Berklee Music College, had also steeped herself in the Norwegian tradition of playing, and thus plays hardingfele (hardanger fiddle) as well as its cousin. With Adam playing guitar alongside his own fiddle, the sound here rounded out by Robert Alan Mackie on upright bass. The sleeeve notes say, promisingly, “recorded live in a room, May 12-16 2021”, that detail both as much and as little as you need to know about the process.

With nary a by your leave, the couple kick right off and into a canter with a trio of Irish tunes, a single fiddle and guitar playing with a joyous abandon through Winnie Hayes/Gan Ainm/The Monk’s. There is already a sense of satisfaction about this recording, the confident exuberance spilling over. A French-Canadian tune, La Coccinelle, is then paired with a Norwegian accordion melody, Osterøy, to greet the first paired fiddle presence and the entry of Mackie, with bowed bass, to the fray. Brief descriptions add colour to the background of each piece, making the Canadian north seem the hotbed of cross-pollenation it likely is. Evening Glory is then, of course, by a Belgian writer, and provides a warming slower pace, fiddle, guitar and bass skirting carefully around each other. The bass is plucking gorgeous.

A bit of old-timey? Yes please, duly delivered in the form of Chinquapin Hunting, awash with sawdust and sourmash aplenty, yet with enough intricacy to take it beyond mere feelgood, the bass again bowed to delightful effect. Twin fiddles then ply Polska Efter Jöns Persson, a sweet tune that melds and merges their joint styles. Fröken Agnes/Polska Efter Kusen sticks next with the Swedish, the first tune having a distant memory, in mood at least, of The Snow It Melts The Soonest, that thought swiftly dashed by the acceleration into the second selection. Some familiarity emerges with another Irish triad, for Martin Wynne’s #2/Toss The Feathers/The Sally Gardens, the second and third tunes each well known. Single fiddle and guitar, I am minded yet again as to the integral intricacy of an acoustic rhythm instrument in Celtic music, the dexterity and swiftness of chord changes never anything short of phenomenal. Adam has all of these skills, leaving your imagination to travel with the flight of Elise’s play.

So where is this hardingfele, you say? Track 7 and not a whisper. Well, hang on, as it is now, for track 8, that this trojan horse is unleashed, Brureslatt Rull Fra Jølster. A rull is a Norwegian folk dance for two or four couples, the mournful tone of the instrument setting the stage for an atmospheric slow swirl. The two different fiddles complement each other and Mackie’s bass, making for quite a courtly regal effect. If a rull is measured, a gangar is altogether more lively, with Nils Og Jens Og Gjeldaug being just that, the hardingfele now jousting with guitar. Mackie is really in his element for this one, his playing evocative of the great Sir Danny of Thompson, for which there is no higher praise. Three more Irish tunes see Elise return to the more familiar instrument, and it seems almost a disappointment. Or would, were Rodney’s Glory/Scully Casey’s/Dave Collins’ such fun. First one fiddle, then paired, Mackie then opening a glorious run for the concluding section. Jings, I’m enjoying this.

I dare say many are thinking the one thing missing thus far is some Icelandic jazz, am I right? As if by magic, that is exactly what is produced out the bag, the tune, London Út seemingly the only tune Elise could bear to listen to, during the first great lock-down of 2020. Or the “first couple years of 2020”, as it is put, fully without misprint or malintent, in the sleevenotes. A more sombre and experimental tune, it casts a different light on their abilities. Palate duly cleansed, straight onward and out with a final Irish selection. Frank Thornton/Cock And The Hen/Cottage In The Grove is a slow and gentle meander during the initial segment, the fiddle, guitar and bass gelling in perfection. No mention is made as to whether it is named after the Captain Peacock character actor, but I live in hope. With an unusual, for this album, guitar entry to Cock And The Hen, it makes for a pleasing change, even if the fiddle then intervenes, overtakes and hurtles on, without a backward glance, toward the end, making for a thoroughly splendid conclusion. And did I say how good Mackie is?

Instrumental albums can sometimes get labelled as samey. Samey is what this sin’t, the variety of textures and instrumentation, even between the three players sufficient to maintain an egregious buoyancy. An end of year nugget tom slip on after the King.

Here’s one of the hardingfele tunes, Nils Og Jens Og Gjeldaug, in just duet mode, to get you in the mood. Looks a bit blowy out there!!

Elise Boeur & Adam Iredale-Gray online: website / facebook / instagram

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