Violin virtuoso Donald MacLennan has just released his debut solo album, Belleville. I’ve been waiting years for this.
The record features a whole slew of MacLennans’s closest friends, who just so happen to be talented and tasteful musicians. The lineup includes, but is not limited to, local gypsy jazz codfather, Duane Andrews, along with two Nova Scotia-based Newfoundland musicians, Michael Dalton and Ronald Hynes.
The first time I saw Donald MacLennan, it was in a university lecture theatre. I was sitting with my boyfriend at the time when Donald and Ange (his then girlfriend, now wife) strolled in through the lower hall doors, hand in hand.
Donald had dreadlocks that reached mid-way down his back. Over the next few weeks, I’d often see Donald around town. What I soon came to notice was that apart from the dreadlocks, Donald usually had a violin on his back. And if not on his back, it was tucked beneath his chin. Before I even knew him, I knew that Donald’s violin was an extension of his body.
About mid-autumn, my boyfriend and I met up for coffee – he had really exciting news for me. “I’ve been asked to join Mishra’s Dream! They’re a Gypsy Jazz band! That Donald guy you love is in it!”
And that’s where my friendship with Donald began. The memories are endless and always brimming with music, and almost always from Donald’s violin. But the gypsy jazz outfit wasn’t his only hat.
I cut my foot open dancing barefoot at the Pub one night, while Donald wailed away, his violin hooked up to a wah pedal.
Over the next few years, I watched, listened and danced as Donald played gypsy jazz, klezmer, rock, electronic, funk, bluegrass, and country. I remember one day while visiting Donald and Ange, Don played a series of jigs he had just written for his first fiddle teacher in Cape Breton, Dougie MacDonald, who had recently passed away.
And where Donald plays in every style imaginable, he plays like no one before him. He borrows from the greats, influenced by everyone an artist is supposed to be influenced by, but presents each and every stroke of the bow with a sound, touch, and nuance that only thee Donald MacLennan could produce. I’d have no difficulty singling out Donald in a sea of a hundred violinists. He is both unprecedented and timeless.
He’s recorded and toured extensively with TZE, The Modern Grass, and Ben Caplan & the Casual Smokers. But now the project’s his own. Now he’s touring his record, and Belleville holds no punches.
It features both manouche and jazz standards along with some original compositions and yes, of course, I cannot write this article without drawing attention to the fact that Donald sings Dolly Parton’s, “I Will Always Love You” like you’ve never heard it before. You simply must listen!
Thankfully, Belleville is available on both bandcamp and iTunes with physical copies soon to be found at Fred’s Records.