I was in New Hampshire this past week-end for another house concert on Saturday evening at Dan Crook and Carla Sandstrom’s, unrelated to Cape Breton music and hence not described here, when I learnt of this house concert on Sunday afternoon, featuring Kimberley Fraser, who is certainly very well known to this list, and Owen Morrison, who likely is not, nor was he to me. I leapt at the chance to hear her, as I had missed out on her house concert at Dan and Carla’s which was scheduled the same night as the February Canadian-American Club Cape Breton dance.
Owen Morrison hails from Virginia, but now lives in the Boston area. A second-generation dancer and musician, he graduated from Guilford College in 2006 with a degree in classical guitar performance and has been a member of various bands, including Elixir, Airdance, Night Watch, and The Figments. His playing¹ has been influenced by bluegrass, swing, classical guitar, and flamenco, but principally by traditional dance music. Kimberley met him when they were both teaching at the same music camp. As he was to prove during the concert, he knows traditional Scottish music very well and is a fine and imaginative accompanist.
The afternoon began with Irish jigs that are widely played in Cape Breton, followed by some reels. Then came a set featuring strathspeys. Some fast reels followed and then Kimberley slowed things down with Jerry Holland’s In Memory of Herbie MacLeod; her playing was, of course, fantastic, but I was especially taken on these last two sets with Owen’s very fine accompaniments on guitar. On the next set, which Kimberley sat out, Owen played Da Slockit Light, a Tom Anderson tune, in a fantastic arrangement, rich and lush: in addition to the melody itself, he somehow made it sound like he was backed by a string symphony. In the next set, Kimberley and Owen played a bunch of reels. While Owen sat out, Kimberley started with Mrs Crawford’s, a special request, and finished out the set with reels; just a totally convincing, beautiful performance! Owen, solo again, played an O’Carolan waltz and another composition called The Hawk, after which Kimberley joined in for some reels, ending with The Road to Errogie (one of the few tunes I can name unassisted).
After a break for an amazing array of refreshments and lots of conversation, the musicians began the second half with some jigs and strathspeys. Then followed Miss Lyall’s (also written as Miss Lyle’s), both strathspey and reel, and more reels, including Big John MacNeil. A lovely air, whose name I didn’t catch, formed the third set. Owen, solo, gave us two reels in another fine arrangement, rather more modern to my ears but incredibly-richly played. Kimberley, solo, began with Joan MacDonald Boes’ The Sweetness of Mary; another strathspey written by Dara Smith-MacDonald (if I heard correctly); and followed by more strathspeys, including Tullochgorm (the spelling on Kimberley’s album), finally ending with some reels; again, a masterful and incredible performance! With Owen again accompanying, she next gave us an Angus Chisholm clog and more tunes. The afternoon ended with an amazing blast of tunes, beginning with Jerry Hollands My Cape Breton Home, and continuing through strathspeys and reels, including the Cape Breton Fiddler’s Welcome to the Shetlands; Owen’s guitar work on My Cape Breton Home, where he and Kimberley switched the lead for a couple of turns, was fantastic! Greeted by a standing ovation, richly deserved by both for their beautiful playing, the afternoon’s music was at an end.
My thanks are due to Tom Morrissey and Meg Russell, who, on very short notice, found me a place at this concert and extended lavish hospitality. I am delighted I was able to attend, to hear Kimberley’s magnificent fiddle, and to learn of Owen’s prowess on guitar. I hope they continue to collaborate and I look forward to hearing them play together again.