Cassie and Maggie MacDonald are sisters from Nova Scotia. They were reared in the seaside town of Antigonish (“antee-GO-nish”), just a stone’s throw from Cape Breton Island, and they grew up with Cape Breton music. Sterling Road is their second album, and they sound like seasoned professionals. Witness the opening track, “Jimmie’s” set, a jig and two reels, one of the reels named for their uncle, a farmer in the area. Maggie starts off with some fine flatpicking on guitar, then is joined by Cassie on fiddle and Andrew Collins on mandola, and it clicks along in a lively manner, and perks up even more when Maggie switches to piano, the one instrument that most gives Cape Breton dance music its distinctive sound and rhythm.
Right on that set’s heels they launch into a set of polkas with Collins again on mandolin and Dennis Rondeau on bass, and you’ll be hard pressed to sit still. And if you want to hear a real hot traditional Cape Breton dance set, check out “The Dusty Meadow Variations,” which includes Kinnon Beaton’s “Judique Consolidated High School Class of 1991 Reel.” Here’s a lovely video of their “Hurricane Jane” set, which kicks off with Natalie MacMaster’s “Wedding Day Jig” and winds up with Cassie’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to her sister.
These sisters sing, too, as you find on Maggie’s sweetly sad reading of the contemporary Scottish folk song “The King’s Shilling,” a lament from a lass whose lad has joined the army and gone away. They also sing in Scottish Gaelic, demonstrated with aplomb on the milling song “Buain A’Choirce.” And they do a bang-up job on their version of the traditional “Sisters” about a love triangle, which they sweeten up a bit from the original. The song “Sweet Melodies” is a co-written contemporary folk-rock song complete with traps played by Scott Ferguson. The final track “Kenzies” even throws in some didgeridoo in a driving reel featuring hot fiddling and intricate piano. Sterling Road has a little something for any fan of Celtic, Cape Breton and Canadian folk music.