Fiddler Laura Risk has trawled old Scottish collections for neglected tunes, bringing to light several forgotten treasures. Like her teacher Alasdair Fraser, Laura plays in a powerful, percussive style, with tight control and beautiful tone but bursting with energy and passion, turning reels into romps and slow airs into soul-searches. Her debut duet recording with Athena Tergis in 1995 was promising: now, ten years later and two thousand miles from her California home, Laura Risk has fulfilled that promise with a solo CD worthy of any master fiddler.
The 3/2 reel 'Dubh' an 'Tomaidh', a rare form in Scotland, reveals Laura's interest in the music of Quebec, her adopted home: 3/2 is a common rhythm for step-dance tunes in French Canada. There are other tastes of Quebec in Laura's own compositions: 'The Lost Hat' is a catchy little gem, and Laura's jig 'The Big Meeting' is a swaggering success.
The slower tunes on 2000 Miles are handled perfectly. 'Mr Abel Banks' and 'The Efficacy of Whisky' both have that spine-tingling effect of moving music played with passion. The slow strathspey 'Master Francis Sitwell' is gorgeous, as are the airs Duncan Lamont and 'Tha M'Aigne Fo Chruaim'. More importantly perhaps, Laura can take a 200-year-old tune and bring it back to life: 'Skye Air' and 'Another St Kilda Song and Dance' might not sound like names to conjure with, but Laura works her magic on them all the same, putting them on a par with today's most exciting fiddle tunes.
Add some more well-known material, the right amount of thoughtful accompaniment, and full and informative notes, and you have an outstanding CD: 14 tracks lasting almost an hour.
Alex Monaghan, Living Tradition, Jan/Feb 2005
Laura Risk cut her teeth in the San Francisco Scottish fiddle scene (where she was taught by Alasdair Fraser) and had a spell in Cordelia's Dad. Teaming up with some of Quebec's finest, including guitarist Eric Beaudry (from La Bottine Souriante), jazz bassist Michel Donato, pianist Rachel Aucoin and Eric Breton (hand percussion), she has produced an album of Scottish music that has a decidedly different feel to it. A very individual fiddler, she wrings every last drop of emotion from the tunes, which are drawn from some of the great 18th and 19th century collections and composers... A couple of tracks are reminiscent of [Alasdair Fraser's] Skyedance, all are interesting if not familiar, and it's yet another great album. It's shaping up to be an expensive time for lovers of Scottish fiddle music
Bob Walton, fRoots, Jan 2005
[This] bright upbeat disc [is] the latest solo release from [a] talented fiddler who until recently [was] part of the lively Celtic music community in Boston, a place where the population of good musicians per square mile these days probably falls only a little short of that in Cape Breton or the Shetland Islands.
Native Californian Laura Risk, a specialist in the music of Scotland whose band credits range from the sophisticated acoustic trio Greenfire to the dark-edged trad-rock group Cordelia's Dad, lives in Montreal now, and 2000 Miles (the title marks the approximate distance between Scotland and Quebec) finds her crack fiddling backed by four capable friends from the Quebecois folk and jazz scenes. It's a collection of mostly traditional Scottish tunes set in simple, complementary arrangements with combinations of guitar, piano, bass, and percussion that emphasize the often complex melodies while not slighting the fact that most of them were meant for dancing. The 18th-century reel "The Miser" is full of big, playful, percussive strokes, while the strathspey "Mr. Martin's Compliments to Keith Norman MacDonald" steps along with all the delightful dignity its name implies. There are also some lovely slow tunes, like the aching "The Bonnie House of Airly," where Risk's quietly intricate bowing taps a deep well of emotion. The booklet includes historical notes on the tunes in English and French.
Tom Nelligan, Dirty Linen, Aug/Sep 2005
A new crop of young American fiddlers, all strongly influenced by Alasdair Fraser's annual Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddlers camp in the Californian Redwood Forest, is now nearing its prime. Names like Hanneke Cassel, Lissa Schneckenberger and Laura Risk are not household names here, and don't sound very Celtic, but they have been producing great music and CDs in just one city, Boston, and will make their names here soon. Laura Risk has now discovered her own niche of Scottish, Cape Breton, and Quebecois fiddle, has moved to Montreal, and her new CD has bilingual, English/French sleeve notes. It's a fine CD with a wide mix of tunes, all played with a delicious touch, reflecting hours of experimentation and judgment. "The Sound of War from the Glen" is an aching slow air from the Simon Fraser Collection, a tune to build a career on. Scottish reels like the "Nine Pint Coggie" and "My Kindly Sweetheart" swing like the clappers and have a modern syncopated style related to that of many young fiddlers in the USA and in these Islands. Those who like the playing of, say, Catriona MacDonald, are recommended to take a listen to some of the sound clips on Laura's website. Strongly recommended.
Trevor Buck, Fiddle On!, Autumn/Winter 2004
Few fiddlers have the expressive range of Scottish expatriate Alasdair Fraser who, in addition to his fiery performances is also a master teacher. One of his star pupils is Laura Risk, now in her 10th year as a recording artist. She has left her California roots for Montreal, where she collaborates with some of La Belle Province's finest jazz and fusion players: guitarist Eric Beaudry of La Bottine Souriante, percussionist Eric Breton of Perdu l'Nord, pianist Rachel Aucoin and bass player Michel Donato. The material, however, is Scottish to the core and Risk's approach to it rivals that of her teacher. She can tear up a fast reel like "North Highlands," slow it down for an air such as "The Bonnie House of Airly," lay down fancy dance licks on a jig the likes of "The Big Meeting," go contemplative as on "Duncan Lamont," or breathe new life into an overdone tune like "Snug in a Blanket." What is particularly memorable about her playing is the amount of space she leaves between notes. Her unhurried style, one part Fraser and one part Martin Hayes, puts a hop to the music, even if it's an air. The only thing missing from this superb 14-track collection is more attention to contrasting dark notes. Their absence makes some of the tunes sound too bright. That aside, this album is a vivacious delight for which you should move heaven and earth to add to your collection.
R Weir, Sing Out!, Spring 2005