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The Living Tradition
The Sunday Times (Culture)
Those with a knowledge of the Welsh language will be familiar with the concept of “alaw”, which quite literally means “melody”, and this CD by the recently-constituted trio of Dylan Fowler (guitar, mandocello), Oliver Wilson-Dickson (fiddle) and Jamie Smith (accordion) is a joyful celebration of the unique brand of melody that characterises Welsh traditional music. I really love the infectious feel of the music-making here, which is characterised by the threesome’s instinctive responses to the rhythmic and harmonic ideas contained within each tune.
Paradoxically, then, it also might be thought that the overall thrust of the music is almost relaxed in nature, but in the pleasingly laid-back sense (as on the syncopated track 2 medley, and the delicately phrased Gwen Lliw’r Lili, which itself derives from an earlier song-melody). Alaw captivate surprisingly intensely, however, especially on selections like the pair of Jigs at track 3 (the first of which, curiously, doesn’t actually possess the jig metre).There’s not a hint of complacency or lack of spirit on the part of the musicians – far from it, since the playing fairly sparkles (albeit in an often slightly understated manner). Dylan’s guitar work in particular is exemplary, and embodies a miraculous degree of sensitivity in its sheer deftness, also imparting a harp-like quality on occasion. Tempos don’t tend to accelerate into overdrive, although the ensemble can certainly get a move on when required, as on the finale to the opening track and the invigorating final “gallops” of the lengthier tune-set that comprises track 9, which en route energetically embraces the Welsh folk dance T? Coch Caerdydd.
The tunes chosen, which are drawn from a variety of sources including books and recordings, often feature a mode containing both major and minor sixths (easier to hear than to explain!), and range from the joyous song-steps of Craig y Ddinas and the beautifully unfolding, strangely strathspey-like tone-picture An Foren Teg (the actual origin of which is not credited in the enigmatic and tantalisingly incomplete booklet information – although thankfully the press release contains much useful additional detail) to the thoughtfully stately modal closer Wil a’I Fam. There’s only one vocal item, Y Ddau Farch, which kicks off the fourth track in style and comes to the trio from the recorded singing of Meredydd Evans.
This is a very rewarding and refreshingly different disc on which the musicians communicate their expertise and understanding with real affection (and feel no need to show off!), leaving the listener definitely wanting more.
Bright Young Folk
Alaw brings together Dylan Fowler (guitar, mandocello) & Oliver Wilson-Dickson (fiddle, voice) with the highly regarded accordionist Jamie Smith. Smith and Wilson-Dixon have also worked together in the well-known Mabon.
The new album Melody, a title which is simply the English translation of the Welsh ’Alaw’, features a range of distinctive Welsh tunes with a range of influences coming together to form a cohesive whole. The heart of the album is Welsh traditional music, with tracks drawn from the folk dance tradition as well as Morris tunes and adapted song melodies.
There are excellent lively numbers such as The Lord of Caernarfon’s Jig/ Owen’s jig, and slow, atmospheric pieces, for example Lilywhite Gwen/The Charm of the Rushlight.
While mainly an instrumental album, vocals feature well on the song Y Ddau Farch based again on a recording of the singing of the renowned collector of the Welsh folk tradition, Meredydd Evans.
Melody features fine playing, a wide range of themes and a great sense of identity. This is clearly a group of musicians with a close musical bond and understanding of each other, performing at the top of their game.