With nimble elegance and expressive command, fiddler Jenna Moynihan has found herself at the forefront of the fiddling community, naturally capturing the attention of all those who listen. Although raised in Boston, far from the Highland and Island communities of Scotland, it is clear through her soft touch and unblemished phrasing that her heart lies with the Scottish fiddle tradition. This young player does not simply mimic the style, but instead holds it safely against her chest, protecting its beauty from becoming tarnished in the hands of this new fiddling generation. From the first time you hear Moynihan, it is clear that her playing is resonating straight from the depths of her soul.
Woven, Moynihan’s debut album, is an album which charmingly lives up to its name. An amalgam of new and old, it draws in influence from different aspects of the fiddle tradition. Joining her on this, are some Boston-based friends: bluegrass guitarist Courtney Hartman, New England Celtic guitarist Owen Marshall, the astonishing Scottish harpist Mairi Chaimbeul (recently featured in our Aerialists video debut) and fiddlers Duncan Wickel, Alex Hargreaves and Darol Anger. Haven opens the album, Moynihan introduces herself not only as a young player capable of creating a rich evocative sound but also as a fine tunesmith. The track has a deep-seated balance of vivacity and grace. The harp and fiddle are interlocked in the arrangement, almost as though breathing together. This is unsurprising given their intricate and cutting-edge work as a duo. Between them they hold great talent, known for adventuring out with the boundaries of traditional folk music without damaging its form for the sake of great experimentation. This can all be heard in their album Back and Forth, an album encapsulating their passions for Scottish Gaelic and Appalachian old time music.
All the pieces are worthy of great appraisal including the better-known tracks Pipe Major Jimmy MacGregor and The Eagle’s Whistle – Major Campbell Graham. However, it is Dolina MacKay that is the true front-runner of the album. The track is intriguing with an equal helping of originality. The track closes with Moynihan’s playing slowly becoming muted, giving the impression that we’re listening to a late night session through a closed door. It was during her time at Berklee College of Music that Moynihan penned The Chill on MonteBello. This was written in response to a challenge set by her tutor Mark Simos, to write a tune in an obscure fiddle tuning. The tune effortlessly taps into a more improvisational style of playing, which she handles with great proficiency and care, overall, another highly impressive track. The closing number, Rise Ye Lazy Fellow – The Mill Stream – The Night We Had The Bears is appropriately fiddle powered. The styles of the four fiddlers join together, using their distinctive and separate sounds to create a stunning closer.
Recently having become the newest member of Laura Cortese & The Dance Cards, Moynihan takes a step back from lead fiddle, showing her adaptability. The originally three piece band have greatly enhanced their sound with Moynihan’s presence, a decision that will stand them in good stead for the future. With expressive and thoughtful playing, Moynihan has proved herself to be one to watch and can be relied upon for gifting us with new and exciting pieces, Haven being a perfect example of this. The album is nothing less than achingly beautiful. At twenty-four years old, Moynihan is already playing beyond her years and leaving listeners around the world with baited breath for her next move.
Review by: Kim Carnie