It feels good to play fiddle tunes with other people, and Elise Boeur and Adam Iredale-Gray know this feeling well. Their forthcoming duo album, Fiddle Tunes, is their first recorded expression of music they’ve been playing for fun for just over two decades. The album’s twelve tracks contain twenty-two tunes primarily of Irish and Nordic origin, both traditional and newly composed, delivered by Elise on fiddle and hardingfele, Adam on fiddle and guitar, and friend and frequent collaborator Robert Alan Mackie on upright bass. The album is a celebration of the experience of sharing fiddle traditions the way they’ve been shared for centuries, the tune recreating itself anew with each repetition as a small group of friends sit knee to knee and play.
Says Boeur, “the whole point for me was to release the brow-furrowed concept-driven artistic intent that I approach other projects with and do something fun. The common thread is just… tunes we both like.”
Adam and Elise have been playing traditional fiddle tunes together since they met in their early teen years, when both were immersed in the Canadian west coast’s thriving Irish traditional music scene. In the years since, they have studied a vast array of musical traditions together and separately at institutions from the Victoria Conservatory of Music to Boston’s Berklee College of Music to Norway’s Høgskolen i Telemark college of folk arts.
They’ve also collaborated with an array of Canada’s finest folk musicians. Iredale-Gray first made waves on the Canadian folk scene with his band Fish & Bird, which also included Boeur’s brother Ryan. Around the same time, Boeur and Iredale-Gray both toured in singer-songwriter Jenny Ritter’s backing band. In more recent years, their band Aerialists, which places fiddle tunes in a progressive, electrified soundscape, has earned them a JUNO nomination and a Canadian Folk Music Award. Mackie has been a frequent player with Aerialists, as well as enlisted Elise for his own project robertalanfuturehearts.
Throughout the course of their numerous projects, Adam and Elise have continued to collect fiddle tunes from sessions, house parties, festivals, and studies both formal and informal. The liner notes for Fiddle Tunes share stories of the sessions or albums that brought these tunes to the players, making clear that this album is a record of Boeur’s and Iredale-Gray’s personal relationships to folk traditions, and a celebration of the folk process as it is, not an attempt to radically push its boundaries or to preserve it in amber.
In the world of this album, Swedish polskas and Norwegian gangars sit comfortably alongside sets of Irish jigs and reels, with Iredale-Gray’s vigorous rhythm guitar providing buoyant support to Boeur’s silvery fiddling, occasionally dappled with grit. The traditional stylistic boundaries between Irish guitar and Norwegian hardingfele hardly seem relevant, let alone the fact that both usually appear without upright bass. On several tracks both Boeur and Iredale-Gray play fiddle, often beginning in close unison and gradually diverging into counterpoint and harmony, remaining within the easy lockstep of people who’ve been playing together for decades. Mackie’s bass steps nimbly in and out of the spotlight, moving between soaring melodic lines and powerful unadorned accompaniment. The bass suddenly grabs the lead from the fiddles in the middle of one set of Irish tunes, surprising the listener while keeping their ear firmly fixed on the melody.
This holds true across the entirety of the album – the musicians’ playing is fluid and expressive, yet it is the tunes themselves that are most prominent. When the music takes a sharp breath as a new A section begins, you can almost hear the players smiling at each other, all thinking “isn’t this such a good tune?” Fiddle tunes exist so that we have something to dance to, something to play with friends after dinner. These melodies have survived decades and centuries across cultures and continents because musicians liked them enough to keep playing them, and on Fiddle Tunes, it’s abundantly clear why.
Artists’ website: https://www.eliseandadam.ca
‘Cathal McConnell’s/Cottage In The Grove’ – official video:
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