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MacIsaac delivers classic Celtic
By MICHELLE RUBY , EXPOSITOR STAFF
Posted 5 hours ago
It’s hard to know what to expect of Ashley MacIsaac.
The electrifying fiddle player with the rock star persona has delivered the folk music of his native Cape Breton to audiences across the county. He has also brandished his bow to create rock, thrash, rap, and unique musical hybrids.
And he’s equally well known for courting controversy both on and off the stage.
But MacIsaac promises his performance at the Sanderson Centre on Tuesday will be classic Celtic.
“It’s going to be a great traditional show,” he said in a telephone conversation this week. “You wouldn’t know you’re not in a pub in Cape Breton.”
For the show, MacIsaac is bring along a couple of his east coast friends: pianist Maybelle Chisholm McQueen and Chris Babineau on guitar.
The concert, he said, will have nothing to do with the music on the recently-released Crossover, MacIsaac’s 12th album, which was three years in the making.
He said he intentionally made a disc of several styles in an effort to “try to make a statement about what I have learned musically over the past 10 years. His music, he says, has always been about “broadening people’s perception of Maritime culture.”
The album’s Celtic crossovers to soulful ballads, both instrumental and lyrical, is in the vein of his first major hit record, 1995’s Hi How Are You Today?
MacIsaac said Crossover is an album of songs that can stand alone, from quiet fiddle songs to big, loud tunes. He said that blend appeals to him as a musician and is also reflection of today’s music industry. He said there are tunes that will attract radio programmers and Itunes downloaders.
“The marketplace is one-tenth of what it used to be. I used to aim for 50,000 sales. If (the album) sold 5,000 I’d be happy now.”
Crossover also features the return of Mary Jane Lamond on the track, And She’s a Rare One. Her Scottish Gaelic vocals were featured on MacIsaac’s 1995 hit single Sleepy Maggie.
“I have made fiddle-only albums. But I was raised on all kinds of other music, too. I hope people will like both types of records I make. Good music is not the same at a rock concert as it is at a square dance hall.”
Born in Creignish, N.S. , MacIsaac said he grew up with music all around. His sister Lisa is also a fiddler, who has her own alternative country band, Madison Violet. Cousins Alexis MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac and Natalie MacMaster are also touring fiddlers.
MacIsaac is also a distant cousin of The White Stripes guitarist and lead vocalist Jack White.
Now 36, MacIsaac doesn’t play down his controversial past. In fact, he says he’s amused by the media attention he has received. He’s talked openly about being gay and about his drug use. On a 1997 Late Night with Conan O’Brien appearance, a leg kick lifted his kilt high enough that the studio and television audience got to see more of the underwear-free musician than they expected.
“I’ve talked about being gay, about the legality of drugs, about racial profiling, about rights based on sexuality. I don’t have a problem speaking my mind.”
He says he’s had to deal with the fallout, and admits to having received the occasional death threat.”
But MacIsaac said his real life is nothing like his bad boy image. He says life is good. He now makes his home in Windsor, Ont. and performs a limited number of shows a year, leaving plenty of time for other pursuits.
He says he has an interest in constitutional law and spent some time with former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff during the federal election campaign.
“At this stage I say no to most jobs. It’s just about having fun and playing the tunes right. When I’m hitting the notes right, the audience usually knows it.”
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