Frequently hailed as one of Australia’s finest Scottish fiddlers, Catherine Fraser shows why she’s earned that title on Rhymes & Reasons, her fourth album with pianist Duncan Smith. There is a certain exuberance, a joie de vivre coursing through each note and phrase that lifts this album into the extraordinary. Produced by Laura Risk and featuring guests Hanneke Cassel on fiddle, Tony McManus on guitar, Natalie Haas on cello and Eric Breton on percussion, Rhymes & Reasons is a well-rounded collection of traditional and contemporary slow airs, jigs, reels and strathspeys.
Though all of the tunes are worthy of mention, there are several exceptional tracks. “Rothiemurchus Rant/Calum Breugach/Donald McLeod’s Reel/Donald Don of Bohunting” features the rant played as a gorgeous slow air, then increases in speed as it moves into the second strathspey and the reels. Catherine is equally expressive on two original slow airs: “The Kirrie Gem” and “Dancing with George.” The first tune showcases Natalie Haas’ exquisite playing and the latter was written for Catherine’s horse, King George IV.
“O Let Me In this Ae Night” is a delightful arrangement of two versions of the same tune; first as a slow air and then as a reel. The album closes with “Raoghull agus Cairistine,” an old Scots Gaelic tune given a very contemporary treatment, replete with bass synth, hand percussion and wisps of ethereal vocals. It’s a spectacular ending to a fantastic recording.
Rhymes & Reasons is definitely one of my top ten album choices for 2009.