THE RHEINGANS SISTERS – Receiver (Bendigedig BEND 15)

ReceiverReceiver, their first release since Bright Field finds Rowan and Anna Rheingans joining forces with visual artist Pierre-Olivier Boulant, whose solarographs (pin-hole camera images) part of the sleeve notes as well as a framework for the artistic process behind the album. Predominantly instrumental, a combination of interwoven storytelling and observation, the sleeve notes describe it as “the crafting of frequencies”, it is, perhaps, best to just absorb rather than deconstruct.

Working with an array of instruments that include violins, violas, organ, banjo,electric guitar, flabuta (a three hole flute), bell tree and feet with additional sax from Rachael Cohen, it opens with the five-minute ‘The Yellow Of The Flowers’, a string and drone pulsing number themed around the renewal of early morning sung by Anna, before moving to the first instrumental, an arrangement for two violins of the Swedish traditional ‘Östbjörka’, the word referring to the tiny location where, on a Thursday night every July, folk gather to play music and dance.

Written by Anna and sung by both sisters, ‘Salt Of The Earth’ is dominated by pizzicato 5-string banjo and coloured with violin and guitar, the song inspired by rituals surrounding birth and death and, specifically, how the Kabyle people of Northern Algeria rub newborn babies with salt and oil for protection. It’s followed, in instrumentally thematic turn, by the Appalachian-coloured One More Banjo, Anna on 5-string and Rowan on baritone.

Four instrumentals follow in succession, the first being ‘Insomnia’, underpinned by a pulsing violin line over which a second violin capers and Anna stomps her feet, followed, in turn, but the airy, titularly-linked ‘Lament For Lost Sleep’, played on flabuta with Rowena on viola drone. Cohen’s alto sax makes its first appearance, colouring the violin and viola of ‘Moustiques Dans Les Mûres’, a heady number recalling mosquitoes along a Toulouse canal towpath.

Vocals (though not lyrics) return (almost impreceptively) on the pizzicato strings of ‘The Bones Of The World’, a fusing of the J.F. Goodacre titled tune and a traditional Occitan shepherds’ song, Anna here also furnishing a bell tree shimmer at the end. Then, introduced by a spoken sample, it’s back to another full-fledged instrumental, this time from Norway with the lively traditional fiddle tune ‘Urjen’, here interpolating at the start an extract from a 1935 recording by Scandinavian legend Jørgen Tjønnstaul on Hardenger Fiddle.

Cohen and lyrics return for Rowan’s ‘After The Bell Rang’, a song in hope of peace inspired by a cathedral bell rescued from the ruins of Nagasaki and now run to symbolise survival and continuity, the track arranged for 5-string banjo with Anna on tambourine a cordes. It’s instrumental time again, then, with violin, viola and Hammond for ‘From Up Here’, a gypsy folk-flavoured tone written about Anna’s time in Toulouse, living in a flat around a central courtyard where she first met Boulant and originally forming the live outro to their song ‘Keep The Whole thing Turning’.

Opening with flabuta, the album enters its last lap with ‘Orogen’, a stately dance tune featuring violin and tambourine inspired by the title’s geographical term for a continetntal plate enfolded into a new mountain range by tectonic forces. ‘The Photograph’ is the final sung piece and the last to feature Cohen, inspired by and referencing an exhibit in the Museum of Free Derry in memory of Bloody Sunday, the track, which features viola, violin and pocket piano, ending with a traditional Irish mazurka. It closes back in France with viola and plucked 5-string banjo on the traditional asymmetrical ‘Waltz From Lozère’, an evocation of the region near Massif Central famous for its cheese and wolves,

Packaged in a cloth-bound hard case with a generously illustrated full-colour booklet providing background information to each of the numbers, Receiver is a work of craftsmanship and beauty that deserves all the acclaim it will doubtlessly receive.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘After The Bell Rang’ – official video: