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f58 ALAW

Dead Man’s Dance Taith Records TRCD00021

Welsh musicians don’t come more sensitive, accomplished and exploratory than this crew, I mean look at their collective CV. It’s long enough to cross your kitchen and then roll halfway down the back garden, packed with cavalier intention and deeds of daring repute. So who better to explore and repurpose their home tradition? Each is master of their chosen instrument; Jamie Smith and Oli Wilson Dick- son are the forward line of Mabon whilst Dylan Fowler’s thoughtful guitar work is worth travelling a hundred miles to hear. Their debut album Melody set out their inten- tions pretty boldly, love of tradition without fearing innovation, so Dead Man’s Dance had to be a step further. In fact, it’s several steps further and contains a diverse, at times chal- lenging, selection as well as a few choice guests to further add to its allure.

Julie Fowlis

JULIE FOWLIS Alterum Machair MACH008/9

Julie Fowlis always was a lovely singer and, I’d wager, always will be (she’s not just a BBC Folk Awards presen- ter, you know…) Indeed, it’s astonishing looking back on how far she’s come singing exclusively in Gaelic, work- ing extensively with materi-

al gleaned from the Outer Hebrides (OK, the Western Isles, as we’re meant to call them now).

Finally, here she is singing in English for the first time (well, apart from that Beatles cover she did once) on a couple of tracks, including – rather surprisingly – Anne Briggs’ Go Your Way and Archie Fisher’s Windward Away – on an album with a Latin title (it means otherworldliness apparently).

A bit of a departure, then, that also finds her stepping into the Galician tradition on the engagingly mellifluous Camariñas and includes Mary Chapin Carpenter (singing in Gaelic) on A Phiuthat’s A Phiuthar and (in English) on Windward Away, which also fea- tures some lovely cello (Su-a Lee) and fiddle (Duncan Chisholm); further vocals are sup- plied by Danú’s Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Gillebride MacMillan, who starred in the TV series Outlander. A model of taste and sensi- bility, it also has telling contributions from redoubtable Scots/Irish luminaries such as Michael McGoldrick (flute and whistle on a couple of tracks), Donald Shaw, Tony Byrne, Donal Lunny, Aoife Ní Bhriain, Ewen Vernal and, of course, Éamon Doorley, who also shares the production credits.

The title is well-chosen… there is some- thing ‘otherworldliness’ about it, especially when we reach the Catriona Montgomery poem Cearcall Mun Ghealaich (Circle About The Moon) set by Fowlis to an evocative piano arrangement that fills your head with furrowed wonder and dreamy imagination.

It’s not the Finnish death metal album that some have craved from Fowlis, but it is unusually beautiful, with a very therapeutic and calming shroud that gently ushers the demons away after a hard day in the lychee queue at the supermarket. Colin Irwin

MELECH MECHAYA Aurora Felmay fy8245

A new release from Melech Mechaya is always welcome, in expectation of another inimitable journey around klezmer and Iberia by the self-styled ‘Party Kings’ from Portugal. However, a decade of perfectly sequenced and packaged panache has now transformed into a record in which the courage of the band’s convictions and playing has finally won out over their previous (highly enjoy- able) security blanket of japes, weirdness and honed eccentricity. This is a serious record, an odyssey away from klezmer’s Central and Eastern European orbit of inescapable histo- ry, migration, rite of passage, and tragedy, but still plainly enthralled by those sources.

The title track sets the tone, a sedate and heartbreaking moodscape of simple piano underpinning moderated clarinet, all through shimmering production and intent crescendo. This is where Melech Mechaya may have previously faltered. But they are fearless now. All is reflective, new, unfaithful, and a new sacredness is created. Boom, for example, is a melange of syrupy deep vocals and well-judged finite falter, a minimalist playing and singing of blame and tears: “We all know we’re wrong.”

In a confident rush of change and pause, the album is an absolute yearning to present a unique klezmer vision as an excavation of tangible, shadowy beauty. Poça De Dominó is a thoughtful sway of a journey, an intensity of bass that manifests an almost impercepti- ble and surreptitious change before ending in a trance of exposed and fragile violin by João da Graça.

Tony Harris (The Verve and REM) must take a great deal of credit for mixing this illu- minating recording. Dues also to judiciously chosen and serenaded guests: Filipe Melo on piano, Noiserv and Lamari de Chambao on vocals, the latter simmering and enraptured in Un Puente while the band create a dis- turbingly sympathetic dark space around her.

There’s a through note of percussive strummed levity above sweet dissonance. A drama of sighs and an irresistible flow of insightful simplicity. An album of almost sub- liminal but plaintive sadness. And a music of rare glimmer. John Pheby

If dead men can dance (can’t somehow see it myself) then they’ve the perfect accom- paniment in The Nifty Maggot/Johnny’s Wel- come Home. Other tune sets getting the thumbs-up round here include the elegant slow air Pan O’wn Y Gwanwyn. Pam Yr Oedi winds fiddle and accordeon together in a near Arabian twist while Fowler’s guitar pat- tern underpins all the time changes with soli- darity. An atmospheric stab at the old Welsh chestnut Lisa Lan sets a quiet, almost elegiac atmosphere where the lyric of anguish and heartfelt sentiment is given space to breathe and have most impact. Of the wider compa- ny, the most effective contributions come as might be expected from the versatile Georgia Ruth, her vocal warming several tracks but crucially Y G’lomen, another lovelorn three minutes which highlights Wilson Dickson and Fowler as sympathetic sidesmen. Both also handle the production chores, as demonstrat- ed by crystal clear vocals on the Welshified shanty Santiana, Gwilym Bowen Rhys in the mix of a tracks contrasting life on the open ocean against the comforts of home.

Pleasingly, the cover and booklet are bilingual so those who don’t understand the language of the land of my forefathers need not fret. Look, put it simply,this is a beautiful album of traditional music played with con- summate skill, carefully curated by a trio who bother about each detail. Moving stuff.

Simon Jones

ARONDE Aronde Pagans PAG012

Noëllie Nioulou and Clémence Cognet are two adventurous talents with a background in the traditional music of Auvergne and Limousin. Their main instruments are cello and violin. Thomas Baudoin and Romain Colautti are from Gascony and they play mainly the boha (the Gascon bagpipes) and the double bass. All four are also singers and multi-instrumentalists and they come togeth- er in Aronde to play what the subtitle of their eponymous album calls “fusion musique d’Auvergne et de Gascogne”.

A brief factual summary such as is con- tained in the two preceding paragraphs utterly fails to evoke the music of this album. It is not jolly dance music from two parts of France; at times it is dark, sombre, solemn and serious. It is not easy listening but it has great depth and is compellingly interesting and inventive. It is not an easy album to evoke in words; the treatment does not sound very French, even though we can hear that it is solidly based on the tradition. The tightness of the instrumental playing reminds this listener of Hungarian and Transylvanian bands, particularly when the bass and cello

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