Spring Music

Me, your generally friendly fiddler, is here as Iain, our sometimes grumpy Librarian, is off not being grumpy as he’s quite happily assisting Bjorn, our gregarious Brewmaster, with deciding which of the trial ales will be the featured one for this Spring. That means his mind is definitely not at all thinking about commenting on reviews right now. So I got to decide what the Sunday post will be and decided to pick the recordings that I tend to play when Spring arrives.

First up is an album so good that it begs for playing over and over. Aly Bain and Ale Moller’s Fully Rigged blends the very, very best of Nordic and Scottish fiddle music together. Aly Bain (Boys of the Lough) and Ale Moller (Frifot) are two of the most splendid fiddlers one can hope to hear, and true gentlemen to boot. It’s been me good luck to hear both of them in concert — if you get a chance to see either one of them perform, don’t pass it up! Fully Rigged makes no pretension of being a ‘live’ album, but rather a carefully crafted affair that makes the best use of recording technology. It’s truly nice to see that an album that’s not just another ‘Nordic thrash folk’ album where the volume of noise disguises the lack of musical talent.

The key here is that Aly Bain and Ale Moller are playing the music of two traditions, Scottish and Nordic, in a way that respects both traditions. All you need to know is Aly Bain, the Shetland Islands’ most revered fiddler and charter member of the Boys of the Lough, is jamming with Ale Moller, Sweden’s acclaimed fretted-string master and member of Frifot. There’s not a bad cut here, but I’ll single out ‘Da Day Dawn’ which is a Winter Solstice tune, and ‘Hallingar fran Dalsland (Hallings from Dalsland) / Da Bonnie Isle O’Whalsay / Da Fashion O’Da Delting Lassies,‚ a set of sprightly tunes — the last of which celebrates Flash Girls, as being particularly well done!

Jethro Tull‘sup next and I bet you can guess which album I reviewed that I play: Songs From The Wood finds Ian’s songwriting skills to be at their very sharpest. It is one of several song cycle that Jethro Tull would do with the first two being the ‘Aqualung’ and ‘My God cycles’ on the Aqualung album, and another being ‘A Passion Play,’ which took up the entire album of the same name. This is certainly the most detailed song cycle that Jethro Tull would do, as it covers — like James Joyce’s Ulysses — a day in the life of its protagonist. Yet, unlike Leopold Bloom who wanders the streets of Dublin in Ulysses, our unnamed narrator is a man of the country.’

Anything by this group is lively Spring music: ‘Blowzabella was unique among the English folk dance revivalist bands for their drone-based sound. They truly did create a ‘wall of sound’. Using bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy to establish their core sound, the group explored the creation of a driving and rather complex sound to its fullest through the interplay of dance melodies with the bagpipes and hurdy gurdy based drone. Their unique sound has proved hard to duplicate though a few groups such as Prego, Shave the Monkey, and the Moving Hearts have come close — the difference being that Blowzabella is the only one that uses bagpipes and hurdy gurdies to create their drone. Bobbityshooty was recorded in 1984 for Plant Life Records whose assets were acquired by Osmosys, who have slowly re-releasing Blowzabella’s Plant Life catalog. (To the best of my knowledge only their In Colour CD from 1983 has not yet been re-issued.) Bobbityshooty was the product of the long-lived middle lineup of this group — bloody great music that will get you up and dancing! It has a different feel to it that the other Blowzabella albums in that Bobbityshooty has more of a straight medieval feel. Cuts that I particularly liked were ‘Shave the Monkey,’ ‘Blowzabella,’ and the title track ‘Bobbityshooty.’ If one wants to hear what a quieter (not quiet!) Blowzabella sounds like, this is the album to purchase. It’s closer to the sound of the Cock & Bull Band than to the band who recorded Wall of Sound’.

I’m finishing off with not one but two collections from Keltia Musique which has produced two fine collections, each distinctive ‘nough to require purchasing. Really. Truly. Fest Noz Live and Les musique de Bretagne are the two collections I’ll be discussing. Fest Noz Live is the more interesting of two recordings. It was recorded at Bannalec and Quimper in the Fall of 1996, featuring some of the top fest noz artists. The band Skolvan have added a drummer and trumpet player here, and their sound is altogether more rounded and less rough than on some of their other recordings. Annie Ebrel and Noluen Le Buhe, and the Freres Quere handle the kan ha diskan (call and response), while Bagad Kemper provides their usual riotous music. Fest Noz Live is indeed a living tradition at play! It’s worth noting that only Skolvan and Bagad Kemper are well-known outside of Britanny, but the other performers (Annie Ebrel, Nolüen Le Buhé, and Les Freres Queré) are quite good in their own right.

Les musique de Bretagne is perhaps a bit more mainstream and less rootsy in its selections, as it has both Alan Stivell and Patrick Lefebvre on it. Fine artists they are, but there’s lots of recordings by them, so why include them here? Pick this CD up for the more obscure artists such as the Goadeg Sisters whose kan ha diskan work on ‘Ar Plac’h diw Wech Eureujet’ will chill the marrow of your bones. It was recorded when all of the sisters were over seventy years in age! Likewise there’re wonderful version of ‘Ronds de Saint Vincent’ here that Jean Baron (bombard) and Christian Anniex (binou koz) do. Truly bliss.

Now join me as I head down to our brewery to see which of the new ales tickled their fancy…

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