Ashley MacIsaac Returns Rejuvenated

Excerpted from the magazine for

After several years of life on the pop-music fringe, Ashley MacIsaac is ready to tackle the mainstream. He ended a six-year hiatus from recording May 6 with a self-titled Decca/Universal debut that strives to highlight his stylistic versatility.

Produced by Roger Greenwalt (No Doubt, Nils Lofgren) and Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello), the project gamely combines the artist's well-regarded Celtic fiddling with pop, rock, blues, and even Gaelic sounds. It adds up to a rich, instantly appealing collection.

"He's an artist of immeasurable depth and talent," says Universal Classics Group senior VP/GM Marc Johnston. "He's also charismatic and charming. Once you see and hear him, you're drawn in. He's quite compelling."

The first track presented to U.S. radio programmers is the acoustic-framed rock tune "Lay Me Down," on which MacIsaac complements his fiddling with a strong vocal performance -- a new creative mountain conquered by an artist who has previously left singing to others.

"It's been a totally new and exciting thing for me to do," he says, adding that when he decided to learn to sing he was most interested in becoming a blues-leaning performer. "In fact, if I had to front a band as a singer, it'd definitely be a blues band. It's such a true, forceful way to sing."

MacIsaac finds his newfound voice to be "interesting." Mostly, he says, "it's new and nice to have a record that can potentially be played on the radio."

Indeed, "Ashley MacIsaac" has more pop appeal than the Nova Scotia-born artist's first two major-label efforts, A&M's "Hi, How Are You Today" (1995) and "Fine, Thank You Very Much" (1997). Both albums were critically acclaimed for merging Celtic fiddling with then-trendy electronic dance music sounds and hip-hop-derived beat scratching. The former album was a smash in Canada.

Although the 1995 single "Sleepy Maggie" garnered U.S. modern-rock radio airplay, MacIsaac remained a largely underground musical figure in the States.

After exiting A&M and just as MacIsaac started work on a new album, several issues brought his progress to a halt. "I was facing bankruptcy. I had an addiction to cocaine. Both have been dealt with -- and they're done and taken care of," he asserts. "But most record companies weren't interested in working with me, because of all that had happened."

Biding his time, he recorded and independently released "Fiddle Music 101," an album of traditional fiddle instrumentals. He then re-released his 1993 album, "A Cape Breton Christmas." All the while, he ruminated on what shape his next record would take.

"I knew I had to take a giant step forward and be unafraid and unapologetic about whatever I chose to do," he says. "I wanted to make a picture of me at the specific time I was in, and I had to let myself be very free to do so. I had to be fluid and approach the unknown."

With Greenwalt and Killen, he crafted an album that includes such radio-friendly fare as the lively "I Don't Need This" and the blues-laced "Captain America." Adding familiarity to the set is a reverent cover of Wings' 1977 chestnut "Mull of Kintyre."

MacIsaac is on a North American tour that finds him in Albany, N.Y. on Friday (May 9). He has dates scheduled through the end of the month, and others already booked in July and August.

Here are MacIsaac's tour dates:

May 9: Albany, N.Y. (Tulip Festival)
May 11: Ellsworth, Maine (Grand Auditorium)
May 13: Arlington, Va. (IOTA Club & Cafe)
May 14: New York (Knitting Factory)
May 15: Northampton, Mass. (Iron Horse Music Hall)
May 16: Somerville, Mass. (Somerville Theatre)
May 19: Los Angeles (Knitting Factory)
May 22: San Francisco (Slim's)
May 30-31: Winnipeg (Winnipeg Casino)
July 1: Toronto (Mel Lastman Square)
July 3: Quebec City (Festival D'Ete)
July 6: Sudbury, Ontario (Northern Lights Festival)
July 9: Saint Anne's, Nova Scotia (Gaelic College)
Aug. 3: Montreal (Divers/Cite)

Excerpted from the May 10, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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