Amarillis is a Pennsylvania-based trio: Maro Avakian on piano, Donna Isaac on fiddle and Allison Thompson on accordion and concertina. They play a mixture of traditional and contemporary Irish, Scottish, English and North American jigs, reels and slip-jigs in medleys or sets. Of course, no contra dance is complete without a few waltzes now and then, and this collection has several good examples.
Avakian’s piano playing anchors Amarillis’s performance, giving a good solid rhythm and “bottom” with her left-hand playing and nuanced melodies with the right hand. She also composed several of the pieces featured on the CD. Thompson and Isaac both are quite good with their instruments as well. Isaac’s fiddling sometimes seems a bit less confident than her bandmates’ playing, and the fiddle is dropped back a little too far in the mix on some tracks.
The production is sharp and clear, with a very “live” sound that tells me it was recorded by professionals. This kind of natural sound isn’t as easy to pull off as it sounds.
The song selection is excellent. A few of the standouts are “Amarillis/Knole Park/Portsmouth,” which includes the old English madrigal from which the group takes its name; “Fair-Haired Lass,” a delicate waltz with very expressive fiddling by Isaac; the set of “Green Willow/Jacob Hall’s Jig/Boys of Antrim,” with strong contrast between the sunny, spring-like sound of the first jig and the alternately forceful and delicate “Antrim”; the teaming of two Irish jigs, “Katy’s Rambles” and “Blackthorn Stick” with the modern and jazzy “Blue Jig”; and especially the contemporary “Sunderland” teamed with “Elizabeth’s Reel,” featuring sprightly contrapuntal interchanges by concertina, fiddle and oboe. This last is a delightful set, centrally placed on the record to very good effect.
The title track, “Waltzing in the Trees,” is a lovely and stately waltz to go home on, with nice guitar work by Kathy Fallon.
The booklet features well-written and informative notes by the band. The cover photo is undistinguished and the title typeface a little hard to read, but all in all, this is a very professional package for a self-produced and released CD.
Most importantly, Waltzing in the Trees is fun to listen to again and again, especially if you’re a contra dancer.