***** (5 stars)
Alaw means Melody in the Welsh language, Cymraeg; and this exquisite trio have expertly squeezed all manner of exciting slip-jigs, reels, breathtaking airs and a solitary delightful traditional song in their mouth-watering and very promising debut album, which demonstrates to brilliant perfection the rich Welsh culture and long, tantalising history.
Stellar fiddle player Oliver Wilson-Dickson and his wonderful jazz guitarist stepfather Dylan Fowler (who owns Stiwdio Felin Fach and produces the Taith Records catalogue) were the orginal two Alaw members, and they conceived their first EP. They were joined by accordion tunemeister Jamie Smith, who has worked with Oliver in Jamie Smith’s Mabon, and this album represents just a sparkling drop in the Welsh traditional ocean. As Oliver says: “We wanted to make this CD a celebration of melody; in particular, a celebration of some of the beautiful melodies of Welsh traditional music.”
Oliver and Jamie cut their teeth on Welsh sessions, dance tunes, the folk songs of the Meredydd Evans collection and the books of Nicolas Bennett and Maria Jane Williams. But what makes Alaw unique is the awesome power of their acoustic instruments, played with consummate ease. Even the well-known chestnuts, like ‘Jig Arglwydd Caernarfon’ and ‘Hud Y Frwynen’ (The Charm Of The Rushlight) engender brilliant new interpretations, and ‘Tŷ Coch Caerdydd’ is completely transformed by the skipping, dancing fiddle and accordion, firmly anchored by inspiring and imaginative guitar chords – a complete world away from some of the more pedestrian, unenlightened dance accompanists that singularly fail to boil my kettle at all. The three-two hornpipe ‘Y Gŵr A’i Farch’ brings the track to a Nantucket sleighride of a joyous end.
That solitary folk song, ‘Y Ddau Farch’, is a delight of vocal harmony, practiced storytelling and an addictive earworm in the chorus. Verdict: Exhilarating originality from must-see masterful musos!