Receiver is the new album by The Rheingans Sisters, their first since 2018’s Bright Field – a record that dazzled audiences and critics with its Leonard Cohen-esque lyrical imagery and strikingly inventive arrangements of violins, banjo, Bearnaise three holed flute and Pyrenean stringed drum.
Receiver, which releases worldwide on 23rd October, was recorded in the Welsh village of Llanbadarn Fynydd near Llandrindod Wells by producer Andy Bell (The Furrow Collective, Karine Polwart, Sam Sweeney) and is their first as new signings to the bendigedig label, the team behind Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita’s award-winning album SOAR.
bendigedig’s genre-spanning outlook and attention to quality (releasing just one carefully crafted album per year) felt like an ideal match for The Rheingans Sisters’ desire to make Receiver a far fuller representation of their process. The album’s artwork, spread across a richly annotated 48-page booklet, is a collaboration with visual artist Pierre-Olivier Boulant whose “solargraphs” are pin-hole camera images made over long periods using everyday containers strapped to his balcony in Toulouse. Like the sisters’ music, these images are born of a patient and deliberate listening to the world to find an authentic expression of what’s being received.
“This is an album that has come from a commitment to waiting and listening to the world”, says Anna, “of reflection, of acceptance, curiosity and being brave enough to wait and see what will happen with things beyond our control.”
“Little did we know when we started writing this album how pertinent these themes would become to us during the pandemic of 2020”, adds Rowan. “There is a gentle irony, looking back, in the fact that we chose ‘The Yellow Of The Flowers’ as the opening track. I wrote that song from a feeling of being trapped inside myself while watching the sort of monotonous every-day life of a city pour by the window and how the flowers shout life and vitality into that scene. Now, watching a bustling city moving past the window has an almost nostalgic quality to it – we long for a time when we took these things for granted. It’s a song which speaks to that loss, now, and also to the intrinsic push of life onwards, forwards alongside that loss”.
A further progression in their work is the way in which Anna and Rowan have explored the timbre of their instruments and the multitude of sounds possible from their fiddles. And for the first time their arrangements are complemented by the addition of electric guitar, Hammond organ and synths – all instruments new to the sisters’ playing. It’s an album rich with European and Scandinavian musical traditions, having more in common with the ECM recordings of Swedish fiddler Lena Willemark or the experimental edges of the French trad scene, than the music of their English folk contemporaries; the presence of jazz saxophonist and improviser Rachael Cohen (the only other musician on the record) is a clear indication of how far from that world this record travels. Anna and Rowan also mention Norwegian brothers Hans and Rasmus Kjorstad, Estonia’s Maarja Nuut, Henry Kaiser and David Lindley’s record The Sweet Sunny North and you may hear a nod to bands like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, as well as Dublin’s Lankum.
While none of these artists are a direct influence they share a spirit; an approach; a way of attending to each tune as its own unique creation. The affectingly plaintive voices of The Rheingans Sisters are used sparingly, befitting the impressionistic direction the lyrics have taken this time. These are songs where the natural world is a palpable surrounding presence, or the most vivid and enduring element of a memory. There are myths and rituals, beauty, sadness and quiet political anger.
There are tunes for the turning season, tunes for home and sleep, tunes for and about dancing that pulse through this record with deep, strange drones and the shadows of feet. And there’s a tune (‘Urjen’) learned over the course of three years from a 1935 recording of the legendary Norwegian musician Jørgen Tjønnstaul of which Rowan says, “There’s something beautiful and unexpected in two young women today, painstakingly examining the smallest details of this old man’s playing, long gone now.”
The Rheingans Sisters grew up in the Derbyshire village of Grindleford. Their father is a luthier of some renown and made the fiddles and banjos that Anna and Rowan play. Their mother, a historian and writer, is also a musician and former clog dancing teacher. After a childhood filled with music workshops and dancing (more often to chart pop than folk) they spent a considerable time away in Sweden, separately immersing themselves in the country’s traditional fiddle styles. Rowan now lives in Sheffield, recording and performing with the vocal trio Lady Maisery as well as her Edinburgh Fringe award-winning solo show Dispatches On The Red Dress and its accompanying album, The Lines We Draw Together, while Anna’s passion for Occitan traditions took her to study and live in Toulouse where she now teaches. They reject any suggestion of sibling harmony in their work, preferring to play with the extremes of feeling in their relationship, but this collaboration is a close one; finishing each other’s musical sentences; colouring in the left spaces.
Receiver is The Rheingans Sisters’ fourth album together, releasing on the bendigedig label on 23rd October 2020.
Artists’ website: https://www.rheinganssisters.co.uk/home
‘The Yellow Of The Flowers’ – official video: