By Pat Moran | From the March-April 2021 issue of Strings magazine
With her trio’s debut album, The Boston States, Katie McNally delivered a love letter to Cape Breton fiddling, a percussive style of playing that traces its roots to 19th-century Scotland.
On Now More Than Ever, McNally’s second release with pianist Neil Pearlman and viola player Shauncey Ali, she tackles a mix of traditional and self-penned strathspeys, reels, and fiddle tunes. The trio’s tight structures and organic interplay remain grounded in tradition while breaking new ground.
McNally’s crunching—the grit of bow scaping strings—on “Lament for the Red Ladder/Francis the Miller” might sound familiar to a Cape Bretoner. Not so with Pearlman’s syncopated jazz piano, but these two disparate styles entwine seamlessly, knitted by Ali’s lowing viola.
McNally and Ali penned the medley “June’s Right Arm/Cape Town Hustle,” where McNally’s giddy fiddle takes flight over Pearlman’s cartwheeling keyboards and the bagpipe drone of Ali’s viola. On “Bearcat Waltz,” tinkling piano segues into sharp bowing and scampering skirls as McNally alternates between the three-note slurs of Irish-style fiddling and the emphatic stutter of the Cape Breton lift. The trio kicks up their own ceilidh with a medley of originals, “Compliments to Bob McIntyre/Humours of Westport/Lad O’Beirne/Hommage a Leanne Hebert,” where whiplash fiddle tumbles into sawing viola and ragtime-inspired piano.
Throughout Now More Than Ever, McNally, Pearlman, and Ali stay true to their Cape Breton and Scottish roots, while stretching out into bluegrass, pop, and jazz. They’re tracing a far more expansive fiddling family tree that can only be called American.
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