Natalie MacMaster

To fans of fiddle music, Natalie MacMaster needs no introduction. Over a recording career now spanning 25 years, this Order of Canada recipient has released 11 albums that have notched sales of over 200,000 copies. She has won two JUNO and eleven East Coast Music Awards and been nominated for a Grammy, is in great demand as a charismatic performer, and has collaborated with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma (on the Grammy-winning album Songs of Joy & Peace), Alison Krauss, Jesse Cook, and Bela Fleck. Though acknowledging that she can be "a musical chameleon," Natalie stresses that, above all else, "I play Cape Breton fiddle."

Her husband, Donnell Leahy, is no stranger to the awards podium himself. He is the oldest brother of the internationally-acclaimed family musical group Leahy, winners of three JUNO Awards. Widely recognized as one of the best Celtic fiddlers in the world, his high-energy playing style also makes him a highly popular performer.

With the release of their latest studio album ONE, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Music chart, a milestone was hit, as the release was their official first full recording as a duo. "When we married in 2002, we felt there would be some recording project in our future, but we didn’t realize it wouldn't happen until 2014!," says Natalie. "Six children later, we’ve finally documented our musical growth together." And what a document ONE is. Released internationally on Linus Entertainment on April 28, 2015, this is an album greater than the sum of its parts. When those individual parts are as talented as MacMaster and Leahy, that's saying something. As Natalie explains, "this CD is a combination of the old and the new, the original and the traditional, the Cape Breton and the Ontario. It’s a musical reflection of us as individuals and as spouses, our influences over the years and our personal interpretations and tastes. We just wanted the right music. Whether it came from us or someone else, whether it came from Finland or Cape Breton, that didn't matter. I'm always just 'oh, I love that piece. I want to record it.'"

The diversity of ONE is a real strength. The Cape Breton-raised MacMaster and the Ontario born and bred Leahy grew up with different fiddle music traditions and they still utilize different techniques on their beloved instrument. While retaining their own individual styles, they have now learned to complement each other's playing in a way only a married couple with such personal chemistry and a joint passion for music can.

A crucial component to ONE was the presence of superstar producer Bob Ezrin. It was a chance meeting of Natalie with legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple) at sessions he was producing for Scottish born Canadian singing star Johnny Reid that led to the unlikely musical match between the star producer and the Celtic couple. Smitten with their sound, Bob recruited Justin Cortelyou (Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Alan Jackson), to co-produce, and the two headed to Cape Breton to record the Celtic couple with ace session musicians Mark Kelso, Mac Morin, Tim Edey, Jamie Gatti, Rachel Aucoin and Sabin Jacques.

When asked about their experience recording with such an iconic producer, Natalie offered, “Bob Ezrin is so musical, truthful and honest in how he works. He heard the music the same way we did.” Donnell added “This album is far beyond anything we ever imagined it being.”

There is energy and freshness, and unparalleled musicality on ONE, a completely instrumental album with creative medleys in the Celtic style mixed with originals, with the exception of one track, a deeply emotional vocal lament “Cagaran Gaolach” sung by Natalie – marking her first ever lead feature vocal to appear on an album. Songs from Finland, France, Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., and Cape Breton are featured here, with a clog medley, jigs, reels, waltz and polka styles all played with infectious enthusiasm and impeccable skill. Some of the unconventional approaches used in the studio for this fiddle-centric album included distorted electric guitars on the driving up tempo “Fiddler’s Despair”, and two players on one piano on “Pastiche for Anne” and a drum kit made of paint cans and a cardboard box on “Joyous Waltz.”

MacMaster and Leahy performed over 100 confirmed PAC shows in 2015 — the majority of dates sold out in advance — billed as Visions From Cape Breton and Beyond, with shows featuring many of the songs from One. The Guardian UK quoted, "If you really love fiddle music, there are performances here that are nothing short of jaw dropping ... performances that will raise you up and performances that will leave you misty–eyed." The 2016 season sees them with another strong touring year, charming audiences across the globe with their incredible performances and pure commitment to their craft.

The 2016 year has already stated with a bang – with Natalie and Donnell taking home two East Coast Music Awards for Traditional Instrumental Recording of the Year, and the coveted award for Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year. Donnell and Natalie have also begun plans to record a Celtic Christmas record, with touring plans around the seasonal repertoire. In the late 2016 holiday season, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy will be performing an intimate and unique Christmas concert series across Canada. Accompanied by an incredible array of talented session musicians – and their entire family – A Celtic Family Christmas will guide you into the wonderful world of a true Cape Breton Christmas celebration. “This tour is going to have an energy that goes beyond the duration of the show,” says Natalie Macmaster. “I want it to stay with our fans throughout the holidays, and beyond.” This year, A Celtic Family Christmas exceeds all expectations with riveting performances by Natalie, Donnell, and their children, bringing the Cape Breton Christmas to you. Through a mix of both song and dance, they will take you on a journey of virtuoso performances, telling the story of the night before Christmas in the Leahy/Macmaster household. “Christmas is where this whole concept started and we are excited to be travelling as a family,” says Donnell. “It’s a perfect time to travel across Canada and bring light and happiness to families and fans across the country.” With a lineup of familiar Christmas songs intermingled with classic Celtic songs sure to warm your heart, A Celtic Family Christmas brings you in the door, and welcomes you in as part of the family.

Regina Folk Festival 2018. Be there.