Alaw’s first album, Melody – also the translation of the band’s name – was released nine years ago and their second, Dead Man’s Dance, some four years later. There have been changes since then: Jamie Smith, that ever-present figure in Welsh music, moved on and in the midst of the pandemic, Mabon ceased to be. Oliver Wilson-Dickson, who was also Mabon’s fiddler, and that other ubiquitous figure, Dylan Fowler, are now joined by Nia Lynn making their third album, Denwyd I’r Goleuni or Drawn To The Light, a rather different proposition.
So in place of the drive of Smith’s melodeon we have the gorgeous, slightly husky voice of Nia and it’s that we hear first singing the opening track, ‘Hiraeth’. It’s a word that doesn’t translate readily from Welsh but Alaw render it as “longing” which sums up the concept well enough. Next come a pair of tunes written by Wilson-Dickson and Fowler, the second of which relates to the album title, and led by fiddle underpinned by Fowler’s guitar and Nia’s harmonium. As the second part demonstrates, Alaw have not sacrificed any of their power with the change of line-up but they have added a measure of delicacy. The next set pairs a traditional Welsh tune with a modern Finnish polka and it’s remarkable how Nia has moved the harmonium from the primitive Methodist chapel to something that a soft-rock band might use.
Alaw switch to English for ‘Fill The House’ written by Oliver and Nia. It’s a lovely song but initially I found the change of language jarring. I love the sound of Welsh singing and I do wish that Alaw had stuck with it. They also print all the words in English first, even when the original song is in Welsh. I can understand the reasons behind this but I’m pleased that they give us the original Welsh, too.
Oliver wrote the gentle ‘Dal I Gredu’ and, with Nia, wrote the music for ‘Baled Y Morfar Rhuddlan’ with words by Ieuan Glan Geirionydd from two centuries ago. It’s about the scene of several battles between the Welsh and the Saxons – Harold Godwinson got his come-uppance in 1066 but it didn’t do the Welsh much good. This is a beautiful, powerful ballad centering on the burning of the palace of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, the last High King of Wales.
The traditional ‘Bwethyn Fy Nain’ is paired with Oliver’s ‘Polca Nia’ and followed by two traditional tunes, ‘Y Dôn Goll/Triban Fonmon’. There is a light-hearted touch with ‘Having Doubts/The Memory Of Llanedi’ featuring Oliver’s viola and the others on tabwrdd, an ancient drum from north Wales, not unlike a tabor. Two more instrumentals follow and finally another song ‘Dai’r Cantwr’, a lilting tribute to the actor and singer Dafydd Dafis.
Denwyd I’r Goleuni is an album I’ve taken great pleasure in. I like the way it blends the old and the new to present the music as a continuum – just like the rest of the world, really – but not always done with the indigenous music of these islands.
Artists’ website: www.alaw-band.com
‘Hiraeth’ – official lyric video: