REVIEW: Jim Fidler -- Gypsy

Released on Iona Records in Europe January 1998
Independent Release in North America

Jim Fidler is a Newfoundland bard with incredible lyrically projective ability who plays 15 instruments so far, though while performing live most often plays acoustic guitar. He seems to find the right tempo to meld lyrics to or make up lyrics to, and bends or shapes the notes to flow in a seamless aural sculpture that rings in the mind as well as the ears. His first recording "Gypsy" is excellent and has been released on IONA Records in Europe and is available as an independent recording in North America.

In earlier comments on this recording I once noted that I thought there was a problem with the stereo imaging. This is incorrect, there is VERY good use of stereo separation BUT it might be missed through a stereo with the speakers not properly placed.

Jim Fidler's unique brand of vibrant Newfoundland folk music is sure to grace the main stage of numerous folk festivals in future.

Live, Jim most often performs on acoustic guitar and voice but he is capable on 15 different instruments and on this CD does lead vocals and backing vocals and plays guitar, mandolin, keyboards, bodhran, Appalachian Indian frame drum, bass, drum kit, tambourine, accordion, whistle, tenor banjo and fiddle. He also plays bass bodhran, tabor, an Egyptian drum, and is beginning to learn uilleann pipes. He has potential on any instrument, songwriting, voice, unamplified voice, music producing and audio engineering and has his own studio and has been producer on several recordings including this one. He engineered and produced this CD. Fergus O'Byrne of Tickle Harbour contributed back-up vocals and bodhran on track 6, Dermot O'Reilly contributed back-up vocals on track 6, Patrick Moran of The Punters and Tickle Harbour contributes fiddle on track 7, George Langdon contributed saxophone on track 12, Noel Worthman played the bones on track 6, and Mark Reccord played slap bass on track 9, else Jim did all the vocals and instruments. Jim had some help on engineering from Lee Tizzard and Phil Badcock. Other than track 7, on which Jim had help from Phil Badcock, all words and music written, arranged and produced by Jim.

The cover picture shows Jim in a multicoloured hat against a light blue sky with a dark blue border to the picture. The picture looks as though it is pieces of a puzzle coming together.

The liner notes are in English, French and German.

The title Gypsy reflects Jim's last name Fidler, a travelling musician name from as far back as 13th century Europe. Several Romany tunes have been passed down to Jim and some of his other stuff is Romany influenced (travelling peoples, including some of my own ancestors on the Boland side, have influenced the music of Ireland and Newfoundland some).

But this CD shows a myriad of influences, not just Romany, Newfoundland and Irish. There is a strong Breton influence on some of the tracks.

The liner notes say that Newfoundland is located between Europe and North America but technically Newfoundland, which (with Labrador) joined Canada in 1949, is part of North America though it is 1.5 hours east of New York City and Toronto in time zones.

Jim has done session music on other recent releases such as Paddy Keenan's Na Keen Affair and Tickle Harbour's Battery Included and Gayle Tapper's Here the Tides Flow. In return for Jim's work on Na Keen Affair Paddy Keenan promised to play some uilleann pipes on Jim's next recording.

When one of my nieces heard this CD for the first time she jumped up on the couch and started dancing.

Now some comments on each track:

  1. Rhythm of the Goat
    This opens with acoustic guitar and then bodhran and then in comes spritely whistle then Jim's rousing voice and there is subtle bodhran throughout.

    "well I asked was she partial to the jigs or to the reels What was her particular fancy for kicking up her heels? She said she was fond of a melody and the singing of the note But her particular fancy was the rhythm of the goat"
    "Then I took out my bodhran and I began to play A song I knew when I was young out in Conception Bay"

    I once asked Jim if there was any pagan religious significance to the song and he said it was just about the bodhran.

  2. In Through the Narrows
    This instrumental, which has some similarities to some Renaissance dance tunes, refers to "The Narrows", the entrance to St. John's (capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador) Harbour, and attempts to evoke the feeling of coming in through The Narrows. It begins with mostly waves of acoustic guitar and mandolin and percussion and near the end there is more percussion and whistle, maybe to indicate that you are in through The Narrows.

  3. The Rising of the Moon
    This is a song for positive change, freedom, for the feeling of change globally as the year 2000 approaches. But from the liner notes it refers to not the full moon but the occasionally observable rising of first horn in the morning sky. "Rise up rise up, rise up rise up, rise up rise up Tis the rising of the moon"

  4. Song of the Gypsy
    This is a tribute to Jim's last name Fidler and his ancestors and how music has been passed on through the generations. "Now the song of the first old gypsy Can be heard to this very day"

  5. Gypsy's Jig
    Track 4 moved into track 5 such that track 5 must be a tune that was passed on to Jim. Track 4 is fairly slow and then track 5 picks up with whistle, mandolin, percussion, more and is a danceable instrumental centered on the whistle. Again it has some similarities to some Renaissance Dance music I have heard. But it also has some similarities to Romany music I have heard too.

  6. Downtown Girl
    Lots of good percussion including bodhran by Fergus O'Byrne. This is a lusty little ditty about a "downtown girl".
    "She likes waking up with her hair messed up.
    She's a downtown girl, she's a get around girl.
    She likes waking up with her hair messed up.
    She's a downtown girl for sure."

  7. Bound for St. Pierre
    Jim wrote this for and dedicated this to a friend Lillian Albistur for the occasion of her getting out of a St. John's hospital and returning to her home in St. Pierre (St. Pierre et Miquelon are a territory of France just off the south coast of Newfoundland). This is a lively instrumental which starts with guitar and keyboard by Jim and then in comes some fiddle by Patrick Moran then in come lively whistle and banjo by Jim.

  8. The Loss of the Fishery
    This is a passionate instrumental reflecting the frustration about the cod moratorium. It opens with a foghorn-like sound (on the accordion). Jim plays all instruments on this: acoustic guitar, mandolin, Appalachian Indian Frame Drum, tambourine, whistle, fiddle, keyboards and accordion. The instrumental evokes waves on the ocean and the shore, centuries of changes, and holding fast. It is danceable.

  9. Blooming of the Flower (Part I) The Exodus
    This is an instrumental with Jim Fidler on drum kit, keyboards and acoustic guitar and Mark Record on slap bass. This is a rousing startup but indicates many feet moving away, packing, exodus.

  10. Blooming of the Flower (Part II)
    This continues on from Part I and is slower, a lyric sample is
    "Oh hear me my proud people, in what seems our darkest hour.
    It's not the time for surrender,
    But the time for the blooming of the flower."
    The song starts as a powerful lament about broken promises and turns into a call for the blooming of the flower.

  11. Out through The Narrows.
    This is a second bookend of sorts to track 2 and features Jim on bass, acoustic guitar, drum kit and keyboards. It is a lively instrumental that evokes the feeling of setting out on a voyage through The Narrows.

  12. Say Something
    Jim on lead vocals, backing vocals, keyboards and acoustic guitar, joined by George Langdon on saxophone. This is a beautiful ballad dedicated to those who "seek the joy in truth yet see the sorrow all around them". It is reggae-influenced.

    "If you say, something, something that them don't want to listen,
    Then you know, that there's something,
    Something that they're just outmissing."
    "And if you say, just what you mean
    they always got a different meaning."

  13. the Gypsy's Lament
    Like Tracks 4 and 5, which this is linked to, Jim plays all the instruments on this. This is a slower feeling track than track 5 and has some moody keyboards and whistle and rephrases some of the themes from track 4 and may be a handed down tune that track 4 was based on. This (track 13) may be a lament for Jim's ancestors but also forms a closing for the CD that promises the music will continue.

Contact information for any who might wish to sign Jim to a label deal in North America or get a copy for radio play purposes
Re: Jim Fidler
Roots Cellar Productions Inc.
P.O. Box 5851
St. John's, Newfoundland
A1C 5X3

He has his own web site at Jim Fidler official web page at which CDs can be ordered, and at which you can sample his music before you buy. There are also fan provided web sites at Jim Fidler 2 and Jim Fidler 3 but the official page is the most up to date..

His second CD, Friendly Fire, was released late in 2000, and is also quite good. I may write a full review of it soon and place it in a separate file. It has a blend of Celtic music, progressive rock, and world beat including reggae and African rhythms and some Romany (Gypsy) influences. But anyway for now I heartily recommend it as well as Gypsy plus recommend that you catch him live if you get a chance.

In early August, 2003, he and a Moroccan friend and a St. Pierre friend released a trio CD under the name Musaik (with a double dot accent on the I) which is a world music smorgasbord with some reggae tunes, some funky Arabic peace songs (but they were conceived before Sept. 11, 2001) and more and is highly danceable and listenable.