The Lighthouse

Paul Cranford and Friends

CD review by Gregory McGuire

first published in:

Acoustic Corner
The Antigonish Casket, Dec. 99

(html links added to original published review)

sound clips

As well as being one of the more influential and important Maritime fiddlers in his own right, Paul Cranford plays a very important role in the preservation and promotion of fiddling traditions as they have evolved in Atlantic Canada. Not only is he a very distinctive musician and composer, but he has devoted much of his energy over the past decade or so to collecting, publishing and making available a wide range of musical material that otherwise might have fallen through the cracks.

The Lighthouse is aptly named, as Cranford has been the keeper at Machias Seal Island Lighthouse for a number of years. For those of us who daily try and figure out how to squeeze in a bit of time to practice, it is difficult to imagine a better environment than an isolated lighthouse for being able to work at tunes without too many external distractions.

Based on the evidence provided by The Lighthouse, Cranford has certainly put his time to good use. Accompanied by Otis Tomas on 2nd fiddle, Gordon MacLean on piano, Sonny Slade and Paul MacDonald on guitars and Siobhan O'Keeffe on flute, this this something along the lines of a sampler of Cape Breton fiddle music, mostly focusing on his own compositions. Cranford demonstrates an extremely fluid fiddle style that allows him to address most of the diverse Cape Breton styles in a fashion that provides evidence of a facility of playing and a deep understanding of the roots and traditions underpinning this style.

This disc itself is self-produced with a somewhat higher level of recording and production than one sometimes finds on similar independent releases. Perhaps most importantly, everything is designed so as to facilitate the use of this material by other musicians and especially other fiddle players. For example, the fifty-some odd tunes are grouped thematically into marches reels jigs strathspeys etc. identified by the musical key.

In addition to the CD itself, Cranford has produced an accompanying book entitled, The Lighthouse Collection of Newly Composed Fiddle Tunes. Once again divided into sections focusing on specific styles and keys, it contains all the tunes recorded on the CD plus another 247 more. The book itself demonstrates the same degree of care and organization as does the recording, and leads the reader through an extensive exploration of the stylistic possibilities of the Cape Breton fiddle. This book is actually the third book of fiddle tunes independently published by Cranford. Given the oral tradition of the Cape Breton fiddle, where so many tunes have been passed on but not necessarily recorded or published, this books fill an admirable role and complement the recordings in a very important fashion.

Lest this should give the impression that Paul Cranford is somewhat representative of a dry academic approach to the fiddle, it should be pointed out the The Lighthouse easily stands up as an equal to the best of modern recordings of the traditional Cape Breton sound. Recordings of his work are showing up in the recordings of other prominent Maritime musicians, such as The Barra MacNeils and the most recent recordings of fiddler Jerry Holland. At heart, his work combines the best of the old tradition and the desire to extend that tradition in the modern world...

Gregory McGuire
Antigonish, 1999

The Lighthouse Collection of newly composed Fiddle Tunes, Original Melodies in the Cape Breton, Irish, and Scottish Tradition, Compiled by Paul Stewart Cranford (Cape Breton Musical Heritage Series)

The Lighthouse: Cape Breton Fiddle Music by Lighthouse keeper Paul Cranford and Friends (CD)

More Tunes from the Lighthouse (2010)- 2CD set - 113 tunes from the Lighthouse Collection performed by Paul Cranford and Mario Colosimo.

Machias Seal Island | Cranford Biography


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