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Cassie & Maggie

Sterling Road – 2014 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Kate Everson

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CDs by Cassie & Maggie

With names like Cassie and Maggie Macdonald, it shouldn't be a surprise that their music is a modern take on traditional Irish and Scottish music. But "Sterling Road," goes deeper than to celebrate their national heritage - much of it harkens back to their family, with songs based on memories and people from their childhood.

For those unfamiliar with the Macdonald clan - which, apart from those living around them in their small Nova Scotia village, includes most listeners - Cassie and Maggie's music evokes imagery that's not necessarily what they intended. Luckily, the in-joke translates into something just as interesting when misinterpreted.

For example, "Jimmie's" is about the farm that's been in the family since the 1800s, but it summons an image of centuries-old stonewalled pubs in rural Ireland, complete with the smell of peat bricks burning in their fireplaces and toasts of "Slainte!" coming from the windows.

The strength of their music comes in the balance of it. "Sterling Road" showcases the talents of both sisters, with eldest Cassie playing fiddle as her younger sibling accompanies her with guitar, piano and vocals, through a mix of instrumental and lyrical songs. Both women have strong voices, but they differ enough to become tight harmonies that suit their style.

Fans of rock-styled violin work, like that of Lindsey Stirling and David Garret, will find a home in "Hurricane Jane," which Cassie wrote as a nickname for her sister, but could easily be a strings cover of a Led Zeppelin tune with its intense fiddle work and driving piano.

But tradition is the backbone of Cassie and Maggie's work, and reinterpretations of Celtic folksongs like "King's Shilling," which examines the cost of war, and "Buain A'choirce" pay homage to the foundation of the artists' success. The entire album welcomes in the traditions that built it, but also aims to do something fresh - in this case, present listeners with music that creates a sensory experience rather than simply plays like staple "Sounds of Ireland" albums found in old attics. It's personal, and it's universal.