Mim Twm Llai, Straeon Y Cymdogion (Sain Recordiau, 2005)

Mim Twm Llai is the pseudonym for Welsh singer-songwriter, Gai Toms. On Straeon Y Cymdogion (Neighbourhood Tales) he builds a sound that is contemporary whilst retaining a definite roots essence.

"Arwain i'r Mr" (Leading To The Sea) is the first example that you come across that demonstrates a masterful blend of styles. The distinctive Welsh sound is ever present, courtesy of the clearly intonated lyrics delivered in Toms' beguiling native language, but listen closer and this rhythmic piece carries a subtle Spanish vibe--never mind the misty mountains and valleys of Wales, this has hints of altogether sunnier climes. Following this, the inclusion of banjo and pedal steel guitar ensures that the engaging ballad, "Cwmorthin," melts into a deliciously smooth country-tinged slow-burning number.

"Y Pen-blwydd" (The Birthday) is a song that ponders the age of Wales. An evocatively sparse piano arrangement from Sin James provides a mesmerising canvas over which Toms delivers his rasping Shane MacGowan-esque vocals. It certainly provides an interesting paradox but it works well, with patriotic sentiments very much evident in Toms' impassioned vocal delivery.

"Las Vegas Ar Iannau'r Wnion" (Las Vegas On The Banks Of The River Wnion) is powerfully anthemic, whilst a more delicate folk sound is evident on the tender ballad, "Si Hei Lwli Sali" (A Lullaby To Sali), with Gai Toms' elegant Spanish guitar offering the perfect setting for guest-vocalist Elaine Gelling to impart her effortlessly pure singing.

As Mim Twm Llai, Gai Toms makes enjoyable music, with strong arrangements and vocals served with passion and gusto--the energy of The Pogues meets the bohemia of The Waifs, injected with a strong Welsh spirit.

[Mike Wilson]