Mary Jane Lamond was born in 1960 in Kingston, Canada. Cape Breton’s modern sharer of ancient Gaelic songs, stories ‘and spirit using a variety of instruments from the bagpipes and fiddle to Indian tabla.
Lamond’s formative years were spent moving between Quebec and Ontario, but she soaked up the Gaelic heritage over many summers spent visiting her grandparents in Cape Breton, where she now resides. It was there that she first remembers hearing Gaelic songs, her initiation took place at a milling frolic, where a heavy woolen cloth is repeatedly beat against a table and people gather to sing and rhythmically keep time. The power of that experience and the music that emanated captured Lamond?s imagination. “I was so taken by it, I became determined to learn and sing Gaelic myself,” Lamond recalls.
Lamond returned to the east coast to attend Antigonish’s Saint Francis Xavier University. Before graduating in Celtic Studies, Lamond had released her first album, the beautiful Bho Thir Nan Craobh (From the Land of the Trees). It consists entirely of traditional material and also features a young and at the time, little known, Ashley McIsaac. Unbeknownst to both, this was to be the beginning of a highly creative professional collaboration.
McIsaac recorded a reworked version of an arrangement penned by Lamond and Gordie Sampson (a native Cape Bretoner), called Sleepy Maggie. The song appeared on MacIsaac’s debut A&M album, Hi How Are You Today? with Lamond (or, as McIsaac always proudly introduced her in concert, Cape Breton’s disco diva) featured on vocals. The song went on to become a staple at contemporary hit radio, garnering numerous awards. Lamond hit the road with McIsaac and The Kitchen Devils as they toured with Melissa Etheridge, The Chieftains and the Crash Test Dummies.
Lamond’s affection, understanding and deep regard for the people and culture of Cape Breton are evident in every aspect of Suas E! The material was lovingly researched and rendered, and several tracks were laid down outside of the recording studio. Air failirinn is a milling song recorded in Lamond’s own home. Horo Ghoid Thu Nighean (Stepping Song) combines electric instrumentation, traditional fiddle and the sound of eight step dancers beating the floor at the West Mabou Sporting Hall.
With adept stewardship from producers Philip Strong and Laurel MacDonald, Lamond succeeded in weaving an unabashedly ancestral Gaelic motif into the fabric of a decidedly modern aural tapestry. “I do think you have to be solidly based in the traditional culture,” Lamond says, “but I believe in experimentation. I don’t have a problem integrating such disparate elements as long as the music stays true to its roots.”
The varied musical styles are played out with contributions from Toronto urban progressive jazzoids Bass is Base and Glenn Milchem and James Gray from the much-revered Blue Rodeo. MacIsaac and his Kitchen Devils once again make an appearance to inject funk into Bog a’Lochain, one of Cape Breton’s most popular strathespeys.
The success of Suas E! contributed to an explosion of interest in Celtic culture and Lamond took the songs on the road with a live band. Her experiences on the stage directly influenced the sound of Làn Dùil (Full of Hope). “I had the same philosophy, which is to pick a variety of songs in the tradition and work on different ways to arrange them,” Lamond explains.
On Làn Dùil, Lamond’s spell-binding renditions of treasured Gaelic songs are fused with original arrangements using a variety of instruments, from the familiar fiddle and bagpipes to Indian tabla. Ultimately, it’s a new style of world music that is unique to Mary Jane Lamond.
Yet as the singer herself will tell you, it’s the stories that matter. While Làn Dùil soothes and stirs, it also chronicles Cape Breton’s living Scottish Gaelic culture. The sounds of friends, family and local legends are heard throughout the album.
Despite the important role her music plays in preserving Scottish Gaelic songs that would otherwise rarely be heard outside Cape Breton, Mary Jane Lamond says Làn Dùil’s primary purpose is to entertain. “This is a huge oral literary tradition that is being lost at an alarming rate,” she says, “and I am involved with community things that help conserve it for younger people. But I’m also an interpreter, a singer and musician and in my music the challenge is to create something new and exciting that doesn’t destroy the heart of it.”
Orain Ghàidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), focuses on the songs and poetry which are the cornerstone of this tradition. This recording remains true to the simple sharing of music that is the foundation of Gaelic culture: from the engaging milling songs performed by a group of Cape Breton?s finest traditional Gaelic singers to the lively old style fiddling of Joe Peter MacLean, a musician never before captured on recording. Recorded at the beautiful North River Church in Cape Breton, this enhanced cd also features visuals taken during the recording sessions.
Mary Jane’s recording Storas (Gaelic meaning “a treasure”) is an interpretation of Scottish Gaelic songs that have become part of Nova Scotia’s Gaelic tradition.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.