Here's a fine album for fans of traditional music. Christina Smith and Jean Hewson are Newfoundlanders very much steeped in the music of a region known for great traditional music. Smith plays fiddle and cello and adds backing vocals and Hewson sings and plays guitar. They are joined by Greg Walsh on vocals, Frank Maher on accordion, Rick West on bodhran and Wade Pinhorn on bass. Gaston Bernard of the band Matapat adds feet on one track.
The album is almost equally divided between tune sets and songs, starting off with a set of three reels, Breakwater Boys Breakdown/Clyde Well's Dream/The Meech Lake Breakdown by the late Emile Benoit, a well-known figure in Canadian traditional music. Smith's fiddle playing is solid if not flashy and Hewson's rhythm guitar underpins the tunes quite well. The title song, August Gale, written by Billy Wilson of Merasheen Island concerns a terrible storm which hit Placentia Bay in 1927 killing 40 fishermen. Hewson sings in a strong voice with a pronounced vibrato which will be more to some folks liking than others but, personally, I think it works, never going to far.
The next set of tunes (they alternate for the most part) are traditional stepdance tunes from the repertoire of Rufus Guinchard, another well-known fiddler from the region. Again well played and lively. The traditional song The Green Shores of Fogo follows and features a very nice melody, very well suited to this song of lovers parting. The humorously named Sinus Infection Jig/Dr. Redmond to the Rescue/Dr. Burrage's Jig set are originals by Hewson. We're told in the booklet notes that the tunes arose from a particularly vicious sinus infection and are in tribute to the doctors who healed her. She does some flatpicking on this set which highlight her abilities on guitar.
Butter and Cheese, a song about food and illicit courtship, brings comic relief amidst the songs of storms and lost love. Two tunes from the playing of Frank Maher, Frank Stamp's Tune/Tom Lake's Favorite, follow. Next is one of the highlights of the album, a duet by Hewson and Greg Walsh on the traditional song, The Privateer, another song of lovers parting. Walsh is a fine singer who, if my research is correct, is a member of the Newfoundland band The Navigators. ( I'll be in search of albums by this band based on what I've heard here.)
Then again we're back to the tune sets with Six-handed Reel/Joey Clement's/Cyril Flynn's Good Old Tune/Mrs. Belle's Close-in Tune, tunes collected form all over Newfoundland. The song Curragh of Kildare which follows is another highlight of the album. This is perhaps Hewson's best solo performance on the album and a beautiful song to boot. Smith's cello backing is just the right touch. Three jigs from Rufus Guinchard, Jim Rumbolt's Tune/Father's Jig/Esau Payne's Tune are up next.
The Snow Shovellers Waltz, an original tune of Smith's, was written, we're told, during the winter of 2000-20001 during which St. John's received six metres of snow, the most ever recorded in North America since records began being kept in the 1880's. Atlantic Blue is a song by well-known Canadian songwriter Ron Hynes and is in memory of those who died when the oil rig Ocean Ranger went down in a storm on Valentine's Day 1982. Based on the strength of this song it's easy to see why Hynes is held in high regard among Canadian songwriters. The album finishes up with Le Bon Vin, a traditional french song collected by Kenneth Peacock in Port-au-Port Peninsula. The feet of Gaston Bernard give the tune a typical French-Canadian feel.
Christina Smith and Jean Hewson are excellent representatives of the strong folk music scene of Newfoundland. Their close associations with the earlier generations of musicians from the area are clear and contribute, no doubt, to the quality of their performance here.
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