Going for it
PLUS: Biography (Courtesy of Management site, 2005).
"I do think you have to be solidly based in the traditional culture. But I believe in experimentation. I don't have a problem integrating disparate elements as long as the music stays true to its roots."
Thus spoke Mary Jane Lamond as her album Suas e! (pronounced su-ess-ay) caused waves within Celtic music. Some reactions spoke of Suas e!'s unexpected warmth and variety, others of its poignancy and bravery. At least two critics saw in its spare, langurous accompaniments a kind of Gaelic successor to Emmylou Harris's luminous Wrecking Ball album, and still others accused Lamond of carelessness with the tradition she claimed to hold so dear.
There was no hint, certainly, that Lamond might create such controversy when she released her first album, Bho Thir Nan Craobh (From the Land of the Trees) a year or two earlier. Here was a promising singer of Gaelic songs from Cape Breton keeping very much within the tradition in the company of, among others, the then little known fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.
But it in its very title, literally translated as Go For It!, Suas e! proclaimed a moving forward, a taking of risks. And to the sound of shimmering guitars, judiciously employed bagpipes, spinning wheels or just the simple tap of her foot, Lamond certainly brought into the modern age the songs her ancestors took to Nova Scotia from North Uist during the Clearances.
They are songs she would hear as her family holidayed with her grandparents in Cape Breton. For long enough, they were songs she never really thought about singing. In fact, except for the odd teenage experience with garage bands, she had never entertained any real ambitions of singing professionally.
Aside from the folk music her parents listened to when she was growing up in Ontario, her tastes in music were, she says, "mostly alternative" - Iggy Pop, punk etc. Then, at the age of 28, inspired by the sound of Cape Breton women singing while they waulked the tweed at a milling frolic, where the heavy fabric is repeatedly beaten against a table in time to the singing, Lamond decided that she had to learn the language and the songs.
"I didn't set out to perform these songs at all, it just happened that way," she says. "The way I heard them sung was communal, with everyone joining in the choruses, and I found it very powerful. I loved the melodies and the rhythm of the language, and as I learned the songs people would ask me to sing them at concerts - and it all carried on from there."
While reading Celtic Studies at St Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, the now Cape Breton-based Lamond met MacIsaac and it was through working with this athletic upholder of Cape Breton's 'music is for dancing' tradition that she gained the confidence to give these ancient Gaelic songs her own treatment, albeit retaining a strong sense of their origins.
Her reworked version of the traditional song Sleepy Maggie appeared on MacIsaac's first A&M album, Hi, How Are You Today? Featuring Lamond, or as MacIsaac always proudly introduced her, 'Cape Breton's Disco Diva', on vocals, the song went on to become a massive radio hit and won several awards. Tours with MacIsaac and the Kitchen Devils supporting Melissa Etheridge, The Chieftains and the Crash Test Dummies followed. A solo career was the next natural step.
After establishing a presence with Bho Thir Nan Craobh, Lamond wanted to move on but in a way which makes paramount her affection, understanding and deep regard for the people and culture of Cape Breton.
"A lot of these old songs actually dictate the treatment you can put on them. They have a very strong natural sense of swing, particularly in their vowel stresses," she says. "I'm very concerned that I know as much as I can about the background to a song and what it means before I sing it, and it's important to me that, whatever accompaniment you give a song, if you strip it all away it still sounds as it would in its natural environment."
Mary Jane Lamond (Biography courtesy of Management site, 2005)
"A sharing of gold is but brief, but a sharing of song lasts long." - Gaelic Proverb
Mary Jane Lamond is a sharer of songs, stories and spirit. This sharing has garnered Mary Jane numerous Juno and East Coast Music Award nominations, critical acclaim and a worldwide audience. Mary Jane has just completed work on her fifth recording ď StorasĒ, which is a beautiful interpretation of some of the Scottish Gaelic songs that have become part of Nova Scotiaís Gaelic tradition.
Mary Janeís fourth recording “rain Ghŗidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), is a traditional offering dedicated to the fine Gaelic singers of Cape Breton.
On the North Shore of Cape Breton Island, the rich heritage of the regionís Scottish settlers was kept alive through song. It was in Nova Scotia, visiting her grandparents throughout her youth, that Mary Jane Lamond fell in love with Scottish Gaelic traditions and song. While enrolled in Saint Francis Xavier Universityís Celtic Studies programme, Lamond released her first album, Bho Thir Nan Craobh, a collection of traditional material that introduced her unique singing voice and a then unknown fiddler named Ashley MacIsaac. The two talented Maritimers then collaborated on the award-winning radio smash "Sleepy Maggie".
Mary Jane Lamond took time-honoured Gaelic songs to the next level on Suas e!, which combined classic texts with contemporary pop sounds. The Globe & Mail praised it for its "refreshing balance between modern and ancient," and the album earned several Juno and East Coast Music Award nominations as well as a MuchMusic Global Groove Award for the video "Bog a'Lochain."
The success of Suas e! contributed to an explosion of interest in Celtic culture and Lamond took the songs on the road with a live band. Her experiences on the stage directly influenced the sound of Lŗn Dýil.
"I had the same philosophy, which is to pick a variety of songs in the tradition and work on different ways to arrange them," Lamond explains.
On Lŗn Dýil Lamondís spell-binding renditions of treasured Gaelic songs are fused with original arrangements using a variety of instruments, from the familiar fiddle and bagpipes to Indian tabla. Ultimately, itís a new style of world music that is unique to Mary Jane Lamond.
Yet as the singer herself will tell you, itís the stories that matter. While Lŗn Dýil soothes and stirs, it also chronicles Cape Bretonís living Scottish Gaelic culture. The sounds of friends, family and local legends are heard throughout the album.
Despite the important role her music plays in preserving Scottish Gaelic songs that would otherwise rarely be heard outside Cape Breton, Mary Jane Lamond says Lŗn Dýilís primary purpose is to entertain. "This is a huge oral literary tradition that is being lost at an alarming rate," she says, "and I am involved with community things that help conserve it for younger people. But Iím also an interpreter, a singer and musician and in my music the challenge is to create something new and exciting that doesnít destroy the heart of it."
“rain Ghŗidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), focuses on the songs and poetry which are the cornerstone of this tradition. This recording remains true to the simple sharing of music that is the foundation of Gaelic culture Ė from the engaging milling songs performed by a group of Cape Bretonís finest traditional Gaelic singers to the lively old style fiddling of Joe Peter MacLean, a musician never before captured on recording. Recorded at the beautiful North River Church in Cape Breton, this enhanced cd also features visuals taken during the recording sessions.
Mary Jane Lamond makes timeless music for a modern age. Mary Jane Lamond continues to make a unique contribution to both world and pop music.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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