It’s been eight years since Natalie MacMaster has put out a solo album.
But don’t, not even for a second, think that she hasn’t been busy during that time. The Canadian fiddle icon has been busy raising her seven children, (four of them coming in those past eight years), and collaborating with husband, and fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy on a couple of recordings.
Her new album, Sketches, is set for release November 1 and Prince George residents will get a sneak preview October 23 when MacMaster plays the Prince George Playhouse.
“Last January I had the urge to do (another solo album) and I had a bit of time,” she says of the new release. “So I started working on, and it felt great.”
The album is called Sketches because it’s “not overly dressed,” she says. “We leave those colours to the imagination.”
The album, and next week’s concert, are a little simpler, but they’re still all Natalie MacMaster. Long-time fans won’t be disappointed and new fans will, well, become new fans.
She will be performing with a three-piece ensemble, rather than a full band … percussion, piano, guitar and MacMaster on fiddle.
“There’s some new original music that I have not played on stage yet,” she says. “You record stuff, but then to play it live is a bit of a different mindset. It’s exciting, I’m anxious to get it going.”
Natalie won’t be the only MacMaster who will be on the stage. Her daughter Mary Frances will be playing the piano.
“She’s hear because she’s a creative talent and I really believe in what she can do,” she says. “She fits perfectly with this ensemble. She’ll also give a little step and do some fiddle.”
That, of course, leaves Leahy at home to look after the rest of the family.
Fans at the concert can expect a bit more of an intimate setting, she says, given that it’s a simpler production.
“We’ll have a lot of fun, but there will be a few more subtle intricacies going on,” she says. “You’ll really hear that.”
Half of the night will be from the new album and half will be some of her older material.
Sketches is a return to a solo sound, and the result is a fiery, must-hear collection of traditional tunes and medleys mixed with new compositions. The album teems with retrospect and legacy as MacMaster reflects on her extraordinary journey in both life and career.
“I have something to say through my fiddle,” she says. “I’ve got something to say musically. I’ve got a collection, over the past eight years, of bits of melodies I’ve been writing or hearing. I’m eager to develop them, to get the thought out, to complete the picture.”
She calls herself a musician for life.
“There’s urge to create the music because you believe in it,” she says.
She is very pleased with the entire album
“It’s what I wanted it to be, and more,” she says. “I feel there are different tracks that appeal to different moods.”
When pressed for a track she is most proud of on the album, she points to a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.
“It’s a song that I’ve always loved,” she says. “The quirk of that track is that it was completely unintended for the record. It wasn’t even a thought. It just happened when we were on a break and we started messing around.”
There will certainly be more new material coming in the future and fans likely won’t have to wait eight years.
“The creative juices are flowing,” she says. “Donnell is going to go into the studio next, then next year Donnell and will do another duo CD.”
She has sold more than 300,000 albums and has received countless nominations and award wins — including but not limited to a GRAMMY Award win and nomination, a JUNO Award win and seven nominations, 19 East Coast Music Association awards, and five Canadian Country Music Association’s “Fiddler of the Year” nods — as well as three honorary doctorates, an induction into the Casino Nova Scotia Hall of Fame, and a member of the Order of Canada.
She has played with Béla Fleck, Faith Hill, Carlos Santana, The Chieftains, Sharon, Lois & Bram, Buddy MacMaster and Jesse Cook, as well as award-winning collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, and a blended line with award-winning collaborations with Donnell and their children. She’s distantly related to fiddler Ashley MacIsaac and rocker Jack white, and spends much of her time collaborating with Donnell as well as putting her teaching degree to use homeschooling their children.
Does have a message for Prince George fans who will be coming out to her show? Absolutely.
“This is an incredible musical journey and I’m constantly growing with appreciation of the privilege it is to travel this beautiful country and play music for Canadians,” she says. “After 37 years of doing it, marriage and seven children later, I’m so grateful. I’m definitely going to be radiating my inner joy.”
She plays the Prince George Playhouse October 23.