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‘Steppes breaths’, as they’ve translated it, is a new take on a timeless place. A collaboration between a French flute player and composer, and the remarkable Mongolian singer and morin huur player known as Epi, takes us into new landscapes.

The format is largely based around Mon- golian music mixed with Tournier’s own sym- pathetic compositions and some effectively incorporated percussion and violin. Epi shows some incredibly subtle vocal skills in particu- lar, and has the grounding tradition at his feet. Some of the best pieces are strongly rooted in Mongolian music, although it has to be said that in their performance and in his surprising adaptability to some of Tournier’s own compositions, Epi also pushes the techni- cal innovation of his singing beyond expecta- tion and into some unexpected new directions.

Albums like this all too often end up being pushed unimaginatively into some- thing of a soundtrack direction. Souffles Des Steppes avoids this by focusing strongly on the two main players. It’s an intelligent use of styles and sonorities whose good production is aided by Tounier’s experience of playing in a variety of oriental styles.

The opening track, originally a Mongo- lian traditional song, starts with a snap of morin huur chording before the khoomii vocal (throat singing), flute and a rhythmic use of violin establishes the dominant style. On Dodeca Mantra there is a strongly Japanese feel and on others an acknowledge- ment of Indian styles and rhythms. Tournier plays both bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) and Western metal flutes and also plays an octo- bass flute which he considers to be “the most adapted flute to the singular tunes of Mon- golia’s singing art”. There’s even a solo.

The album contains two suites of varying resonance; but it’s likely to be the several pieces based on Mongolian tradition that stand out. That opening track, Baatar Tsogtyn Nagats, is in the ‘short song’ format; Eruu Tsagaan Bolimor is a love song notable for Tounier’s use of bansuri and the variety of Epi’s own vocal styles; and Kherlengiin Bariyaa is a ‘long song’ expressing deep respect for the Kherlen river.

Despite the innovations, Mongolian music is never far away.

www. Phil Wilson


Yann-Fañch enjoys iconic status in his native Brittany. An outstanding singer with a great voice and deep understanding of Breton lan- guage and culture, he is a foremost collector of Breton songs including the repertoires of the famed singing siblings of the Goadec and Morvan families. Revered throughout the peninsula, he is relatively unknown else- where, probably because of his commitment to his minority language.

His many previous releases have seen him demonstrating the range of Breton song though he is best known for his exquisite interpretation of gwerz, the lament-like epic ballads with historical or legendary subjects.

With this album with his newly formed trio, he concentrates on one aspect of this rich tradition, the call and response singing for dancing Kan Ha Diskan. Seeing these dances at a large Fest Noz or at their large

festivals like the one at Lorient is quite an experience; the slow introductory sung or played sections will indicate to the dancers which type of dance it will be and the dancers wander on to the dance floor. As the tune’s rhythm strikes up the dancers quickly for themselves into lines which snake in and out of one another in straightforward but mes- merising movements.

The usual format of the way the dances are presented here is for Yann-Fañch to sing the call with the response being an instru- mental one from the accordeon of Erwann Tobie with Heikki Bourgault’s guitar under- pinning both. The combination of liveliness and subtlety of the rhythms and the excel- lence of the singing makes this very good lis- tening. This may not be his finest album but for non-Breton speakers, it is probably the most accessible with the booklet providing the lyrics of all the songs in Breton with their French translations. Vic Smith

THE FOXGLOVE TRIO Distant Havens Foxglove Records FXGCD03

The Foxglove Trio are one of the most distinc- tive of today’s young ensembles, due partly to their comparatively unusual instrumental blend (dominant melodeon-and-cello front- line with guitar, second cello, whistle and bodhrán) and partly due to their versatile, dual-language (English and Welsh) song- base. Together these elements enable a goodly variety of material, from lyrical set- tings of Welsh poetry and impassioned origi- nal compositions of environmental import to rather jauntier, foot-stamping English tradi- tional song, all styled and performed with abundant panache.

As often as not the trio members supply their own ingenious and apposite melodies, while they also display a natural flair for vocal arrangement. Ffion Mair’s clear-toned, feisty and tellingly expressive lead vocal work is a treasure, whether railing at our tendency to forget or dismiss the suffering of others (Looking Elsewhere) or negotiating the glee- ful register leaps of The Sheffield Apprentice; but Patrick Dean and Cathy Mason’s support- ing harmonies also prove both expert and highly satisfying, notably on the gorgeous lul- laby Si Hei Lwli and the disc’s ‘wildcard’ book- end (verses from the Foo Fighters’ Home).

As befits the trio’s thoughtful approach

to repertoire, Distant Havens has a linking theme which extends that of their earlier

Foxglove Trio

album – the concept of home with all its shift- ing perspectives: stability versus displace- ment; nostalgia and longing versus restless- ness. The latter aspect is particularly potent on those songs whose characters face the prospect of unrequited love: the devotional Ym Mhontypridd, the dramatic scena Os Daw Fy Nghariad (also recorded by 9Bach and Calan) and Dau Aderyn, an enraptured port- manteau of two llatai (love-messenger songs). Although this sequence of Welsh-lan- guage songs forms probably the most sub- lime section of the disc (translations helpfully available on the Trio’s website), there are plenty of delights elsewhere, not least Bran- wen and William (both adapted from tradi- tional balladry), and The January Girl (a mag- nificently inventive and literate reboot of Dave Goulder’s January Man).

By the way, the package artwork (by Natalie Reid) is absolutely lovely too. A truly enchanting release all round. David Kidman CATHERINE MACLELLAN

If It’s Alright With You – The Songs Of Gene MacLellan True North TND670

So who is earth is/was this Gene MacLellan to justify such an album? Well, it is a was, as he died in 1995 having written songs such as Snowbird and Put Your Hand In The Hand and had his songs covered by Elvis, Joan Baez, Nana Mouskouri and of course, Anne Murray amongst others. Catherine is his daughter, and continues the MacLellan family talent with a first class recording. Snowbird gets a slow, stripped-down treatment, and if there are awards for the best-ever version, this one wins it hands down. As indeed does Put Your Hand with an acoustic treatment. Two gui- tars, three voices and another best-ever award from me.

Don’t think that MacLellan was a two-hit song wonder though, as there are other gems scattered here. From the opener Pages Of Time, a country classic with the hook line “It’s hard to unravel the cracks from the gravel”, The Call performed as a duet with John Con- nolly and yet another straight country classic, Face In The Mirror. Finally there’s Bidin’ My Time where Catherine MacLellan’s reading and acoustic arrangement is what the song deserves after the over-orchestrated hit from Anne Murray. As country music today goes this is Canada 5, Nashville 0. John Atkins

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