For the most part this is a lightweight, pleasant set of Celtic music, songs and tunes both. For those of you who remember my condemnation of merely "nice" traditional music, I must make clear, lightweight is not a synonym. With one reservation, I rather like this album. The spark missing from some overly traditional groups is to be found here. There's energy in the quick tunes, and in the best of the slow airs -- though some of the slow music is allowed to drag.
The sources are not limited to the Welsh, though they favour the less commonly mined branches of Celtic music -- from Wales, Brittany and Cornwall -- over Ireland and Scotland. Several of the tunes are newly penned by members of the band. This gives it a mix of the familiar feeling of Celtic music, and fresh individual tracks.
The instruments also include a few less common sounds -- including a Welsh pibgorn (a kind of hornpipe), an ancient instrument whose sound seems caught halfway between the whistle and the bagpipe, losing the shrillness of the former and the drone of the latter, and gaining a tremolo all its own. There's also a Breton bombarde on two selections. The first description that popped into my mind, which may seem less complimentary than intended, is that it sounds much like a demented, if remarkably tuneful, bee.
Of the more common instruments, Mary Triola's harp adds a hint of sweetness behind the other instruments, and shines where it's showcased. Melissa Rich is a notable fiddler.
Neither of the singers are remarkable. In the case of Bill Reese, this is a compliment. His voice seems to come straight out of a thousand pubs; it's the musical equivalent of warm old slippers. Nobody will wax passionate, but many will enjoy, and even depend on it to keep sounding that way through time.
I have not been able to pinpoint the reason I am turned off by Mary Triola's singing voice. Her range is mezzo-soprano to alto instead of the more common soprano, but this is no cause for complaint, when my favourite female voices seem to be alto or lower. She's on key, clear, uses a hint of vibrato but restrains that effect. And the sound she produces is just as familiar-from-pubs as Bill's. However, there is some underlying burr that makes it harder to listen to than can be accounted for by any summation of its qualities, some little grate in the sound. In some cases it is mildly bothersome, but I find it impossible to listen through "Lisa Lan", where the mild annoyance of her voice is compounded by the over-slow rendition.
The best tracks are almost certainly the Scottish "MacPherson's Lament", and the title track. The slower "Death of Pryderi" is also a fine piece of music, if not as sad as its name suggests, as is the "March to Pigtown" (I could imagine stamping feet on the dance floor as readily as the villainous pig-drive described in the liner notes), though they do not work as well as a single instrumental set as they do as two discrete pieces of music.
Incidentally, all the references to pigs, pig-drives and Pryderi are directly related to one branch of the Mabinogion, the Welsh national epic, although certainly more tongue-in-cheek than reverent.
There are several other good moments, if more among the fast paced bits than the slow, but they're worth discovering alone.