I once asked Kevin Burke what kind of fiddlers impressed him. He replied that just about anyone with a moderate amount of talent can play fast; he pays attention when they can play slowly. Burke would probably love Jenna Moynihan’s aptly named debut solo album Woven. Think the warp and weft threads of emerging patterns, not the clackety-clack of a loom. Moynihan is the latest Celtic music-inspired wunderkind from Boston’s Berklee College of Music and like other recent grads, she’s a treasure. She is capable of blistering the paint from the walls, as she demonstrates on breakneck pieces such as “Dolina MacKay,” but for the most part she plays with a lighter touch and unhurried pace. On the impressive opening track “Haven,” she uses one- and two-note repeats on her fiddle (and Della Mae’s Courtney Hartman’s guitar) to echo like a penny whistle whilst spinning finer threads around them. Like many of the Scottish fiddlers who inspire her, Moynihan likes to transpose pipe tunes for strings, but again she emphasizes subtle and introspective aspects. Among the artists she admires is Scotland’s Blazin’ Fiddles, a lineup known for its high-octane playing. Leave it to Moynihan to find something from its softer side, a lovely tune titled “The Eagle’s Whistle.” Lovelier still are pieces that also feature her sometime touring partner, Skye clarsach player Mairi Chaimbeul. Of particular note is Chaimbeul’s own “Kendall Tavern,” which invokes Catriona MacKay in the way it manages to be simultaneously edgy and frangible. It opens with Chaimbeul’s harp taking center stage while Moynihan’s fiddle adds resonant bottom, then midway through the roles reverse. The tune gathers speed, but it’s more the pace of a spirited trot than a sweaty gallop, and then it decelerates to a slow fade.
Throughout this tight ten-track release Ms. Moynihan impresses with her flexibility and deep understanding of what each tune commands. There is, for instance, a superb collaboration with Darol Anger: “The Chill on the Montebello.” It is exactly the sort of freeform jam you’d expect from Anger – explorative and improvisational, yet controlled. “O’Sullivan’s March” is an equally thoughtful arrangement. Moynihan’s dreamy touch on this one feels more like a brook side pause for reflection than a measured slog down the road. She does take us out on a double-time note with the ironically named “Rise Ye Lazy Fellow” set. Call it the flash of eye-catching red that brings everything together on a muted musical tapestry.
— Rob Weir