ROOT & BRANCH – A Breath Against The Calm (own label RABR02)

A Breath Against The CalmRoot & Branch are an Anglo-American quintet whose repertoire spans Britain, Ireland and the Appalachians. A Breath Against The Calm is their first full-length album following their 2015 EP, Overground. Their arsenal of instruments is fairly genre-standard although Jess Whelligan’s cello adds different and sometimes unexpected textures.

The album kicks off with ‘Big John’s Daughter’, a set of three tunes, the last of which has been adapted from the Irish original by the band’s two fiddle players, Nathan Bontrager and Ewan Macdonald. That’s followed by a complete contrast, ‘The Road To Germany’ by Stuart Graham. It has the feel of a traditional song but is very modern being about migration, specifically across the Mediterranean. It’s one of those songs that would have quickly entered into the folk repertoire some fifty years ago but that doesn’t seem to happen any more.

The second tune set begins with Bontrager’s ‘Cathar Rag’ with the cello playing a prominent role and some “wrong” notes that prevent your attention from wavering before it segues into the rather more conventional ‘Hunting The Buffalo’ from across the Atlantic. Next is what must be the most recorded song of the year, ‘Hares On The Mountain’. I don’t think I’ve heard so many versions and variants of a song as I have in the past few months. This is another nice one.

‘Shputnik’ includes tunes by John Scott and Martyn Bennett and then we come to the one track I’m having some trouble with. Root & Branch’s reading of ‘The Dalesman’s Litany’ is too long and too slow. At least they did their due diligence with the words which are pretty much as in Tim Hart’s fifty year old take. I do think that many singers miss the point of the song, though, as explained in the last verse. The song should be one of contentment as the hard times are now behind the singer. Or is that just me?

‘The Barndance (Dornoch Links)’ is a splendid tune, featuring Chris Jones’ banjo and leading us to the finale, ‘Young Hunting’. I’m guessing that this is an Appalachian version – the fiddle feels as though it has been lifted from ‘House Carpenter’ – and the words don’t quite match any of the usual versions under any of its titles. It is, however, a very complete telling of the tale seemingly taking elements from here and there.

A Breath Against The Calm is an eclectic mix of music but it does work together. I might have put ‘The Road To Germany’ further down the order but how picky can I be?

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://randb.org.uk/

Root & Branch live in unusual circumstances:

ALLAN YN Y FAN – NEWiD (Steam Pie Records SPCD10185)

NEWiDMusic has a rare ability to stir deep emotions in us.  One of the best is happiness and that is exactly what NEWiD, the latest album from Allan Yn Y Fan, does.  It’s a glorious celebration of music performed with a buoyancy and lightness of touch that only good musicians who are having a good time can produce.

Newid is the Welsh word for change, but it also works in English as new id and both of those apply to this band.  The addition of Alan Cooper and Catrin O’Neill  to the existing quartet of Geoff Cripps, Chris Jones, Linda Simmonds and Kate Strudwick give them an enormous range. Between them they can summon five vocalists and more than a dozen different instruments.

The majority of the twelve tracks on the album are traditional Welsh tunes, sung in both Welsh and English, opening with the traditional song ‘Marwnad yr Ehedydd’ or ‘Skylark Elegy’. Catrin O’Neill’s wonderfully clear voice certainly soars in response.

In an album full of absolute gems it can be difficult to pick out just a few tracks to give the flavour of the whole but Chris Jones’ ‘Bishop of Llandaff’s and Frank Hennessey’s Kairdiff Quickstep’ deserves mention not just for the title length but for showcasing the range of instruments the band can play at such a high level.

‘Can Merthyr’, sung a capela, show another facet.  This story, as old as time, of a man thinking he can get the better of his better half is a salutatory warning to husbands everywhere but also an example of the vocal abilities of the band, which they use to such good effect here.

The final stand-out track to mention is Kate Strudwick’s  beautiful and moving ‘Tune for Lilian’ which has a back story involving her University landlady, a legacy and possibly a dead cat.  She tells the story far better than I could so it’s the final inducement you need to see the band live at the first opportunity.

The album is released on the 16th September and is available to pre-order now on Propermusic.

Tony Birch

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Artists’ website: http://www.allanynyfan.co.uk/

Allan Yn Y Fan live at this year’s Shepley Spring Festival:

ALLAN YN Y FAN – NOW WE ARE SIX!

Allan Yn Y Fan 2015

Leading Welsh band Allan Yn Y Fan are delighted to announce their new six piece line-up and touring plans for 2015.

In their first line-up change since 2008, the original four members of the band (Geoff Cripps, Chris Jones, Lind Simmonds and Kate Strudwick) are thrilled to be joined by lead-singer Catrin O’Neill and fiddler Alan Cooper. Catrin is well-known as a solo artist and for also having been part of the TRAC project 10 Mewn Bws/10 In A Bus, whilst Alan has played his fiddle in a variety of line-ups touring across the world.

Catrin, originally from southern Snowdonia , says  “Welsh folk music has been overlooked for so long, even well-known Celtic musicians not really being aware of its existence. Many people think that our folk music consists of hymns or male voice choirs – so far from the reality. The true folk music of Wales can be compared to the carefree passion of Irish, or the beauty of Breton music, but with it bringing harmonies and a poetic tradition to rival that of anywhere in the world. I think it would be very mean of us not to share it! Joining Allan Yn Y Fan means I get to be part of a band who really subscribe to that generosity of spirit and put the miles in to take our music to new countries, concert halls and festivals – I can’t wait to get on the road!”

Alan says “I am really excited about the prospects of working with Allan Yn Y Fan and with Catrin O’Neill. As new players for the band we are relishing the opportunity of honouring what the band has created over the past decade, but also to putting our creative stamp on the next chapter of their musical journey.”

First up for the new band is their appearance at a brand new showcasing event the Arainn Ceilteach festival being held on Inis Môr, Aran Isles of the coast of Galway from 13th March (www.ceilteach.ie ). Their first Welsh festival appearance in 2015 will be at the Tredegar House Folk Festival on Saturday 9th May.

Later in the year the band will be heading into the studio to produce their sixth album and the first with this exciting new line-up.

Artists’ website: www.ayyf.co.uk

ALLAN YN Y FAN – Pwnco (Steam Pie Records SPCD10165)

Medieval…that’s how I’d describe the music of the Welsh band Allan Yn Y Fan on hearing the first track “Death In Ennis/The Audient” of their latest CD. Not in an arcane way but, if you get my drift it’s the kind of music that you’d expect at a banquet with serving wenches and portly bearded gentry stuffing their faces with chicken drum sticks and the like…not unlike an evening at Fyfe Mansions then? It’s perhaps not the kind of music I’d generally listen to even with the Bellowhead-ish (with additional brass) “Miniwet Dinbych” but the musicians do make a good fist of it. A brief resume of the utilised instrumentation including guitar, fiddle, accordion, mandolin, flute and recorder offers a guide to what to expect performed in a laid-back, ‘session’ kind of way. With the addition of everyone’s vocals (Geoff Cripps, Meriel Field, Chris Jones, Linda Simmonds and Kate Strudwick) this is the kind of recording that throws up occasional gems and one of these is “Twinkle Twinkle (Little Star)” with its unusual setting to a melody by G C Westcott. This is a nicely judged and delivered lullaby that I can imagine would not only go down well with under five’s but also a lot of ‘folk’ audiences. Perhaps “Pwnco” won’t move mountains but it is none the less a nice recording.

PETE FYFE

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Artist web link and current tour dates: www.ayyf.co.uk