Ruthie Dornfeld, Duets Abroad (Ruthie Dornfeld, 2010)

Seattle-based fiddler Ruthie Dornfeld does plenty of playing at home in bands like Rouge and Cinnamon Bird, but she has also spent much of her musical career collaborating with some of the finest folk musicians in Scandinavia and the Balkans. On her new CD Duets Abroad, she pairs up with a number of her favorite performers. Most of the guests musicians hail from Finland, with one performer each from Denmark, France, and Hungary.

Duets Abroad is not a typical folk duets album. Yes, there are a couple of nice, pleasant-sounding tunes with a relatively standard guitar and fiddle arrangement, but the rest of the album hits you in many different ways. In particular, the collaborations with Hungarian multi-instrumentalist Balázs Dongó Szokolay are quite unusual. Szokolay's frenzied, dissonant approach to his pipes and whistles will challenge any preconceived notion of folk music as something meant to be soothing or relaxing. (To put it another way, Dornfeld's duets with Szokolay really kick ass and you should check them out.) To be fair, the rest of the album works nicely as well. There are plenty of good examples of both the Finnish and American fiddling traditions, along with some original compositions. The alternation of accompanying instruments between guitar (France's Patrick Desauny and Denmark's Morten Høirup), mandolins (Petri Hakala), jaw harp and singing bowls (Tapani Varis), harmonica (Jouko Kyhälaä), and accordion (Pekka Pentikäinen) makes for nice variety. Instruments like the harmonica and the jaw harp may not strike you as suitable instruments for accompanying a fiddle before you hear them, but the tracks these instruments are used on sound really good. That these instruments function well in this context is ample testament to the skills of the musicians Dornfeld has chosen to work with.

Duets Abroad is not only a fine collection of folk fiddle tunes, but it is also a textbook demonstration of the sonic diversity of contemporary folk music and the creativity of the people who play it. Ruthie Dornfeld has a great assortment of friends and plenty of talent in her own right, and she knows how to make good use of both.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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