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Salt House -Huam (2020) Review



This is the creature

“This is the creature there has never been.
They never knew it, and yet, none the less,
they loved the way it moved, its suppleness,
its neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.

Not there, because they loved it, it behaved
as though it were. They always left some space.
And in that clear unpeopled space they saved
it lightly reared its head, with scarce a trace
of not being there.

They fed it, not with corn,
but only with the possibility
of being. And that was able to confer
such strength, its brow put forth a horn. One horn.
Whitely it stole up to a maid – to be
within the silver mirror and in her.


Rainer Maria Rilke
It might seem a bit odd, starting a folk CD review with poem, but for me, writing a review is not about judging and dissecting the music. It is all about sharing. Sharing what I hear and what music does to me. In this particular case, the music Salt House recorded, had my mind drift off to this poem time and time again. I’ll tell you why. The power of This is the Creature is that every word is carefully selected to be there, none more needed, none more written. Every word opens up a space to wander into. It is real, yet it is not. And most importantly, Rainer Maria Rilke uses the power of limitation. Less is more. Less is beautiful.

The first track on Huam, called Fire Light, starts just like that. It is just a single guitar melody and a voice. Nothing more, nothing less. A warming tender voice though. A poetic voice too. And that is it. That is all you need for a beautiful song. Yes, there is the added violin, that subtle sound of the dulcimer, that build-up to a beautiful ballad, but it never takes away from the essence of the song: the words, the poetry in it.



Beautiful poetic music, Singer-songwriter folk at it’s very best

The sixth track If I Am Lucky is equally beautiful. Again that beautiful combination of a guitar and a voice, beautiful harmonies, and a gentle but really catchy hook weave through the song. But once again this is all to support the words, the poetry. All three members of Salt House are storytellers, singer-songwriters in the purest form, never overdone, never overdramatic. Always honest, with a sprinkling of tenderness and positivity that I just love. Every single note of it. In older folk songs there is often a lot of pure storytelling. Think of songs like The Well, Twa Corbies, Matty Groves or Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse. With Lord Ullins Daughter, Salt House also recorded such an old story, and it is the perfect combination of story and music. It has a slightly darker feel than the first two songs I described, achieved just by a simple guitar rhythm at just the right tone and the viola ‘creeping’ under it. Who needs all kinds of fancy keyboard effects if you have a voice, guitar and viola? Not Salt House!

Huam – the Scots name for the call of an owl – is Salt House’s third album. In 2013 Siobhan Miller (vocals, harmonium), Ewan MacPherson (guitar, vocals, banjo, Jews harp), Lauren MacColl (viola, fiddle, vocals) and Euan Burton (double bass, Rhodes piano, vocals) recorded the debut album Lay Your Dark Low. An album equally as beautiful as Huam, slightly richer in arrangements but lovely Celtic singer-songwriter folk. Don’t expect any dance tunes on Salt House’s albums: the band’s focus is on the storytelling side of folk, and they do this in a fresh and modern way that is reminiscent of like-minded artists like Back of the Moon, Findlay Napier , or Cara. In a slightly different line-up (Singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon joining Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl) the band recorded the more balladesque record Undersong (2018). On Undersong the band focusses even more on the lyrics side of a song, while the instruments becoming a ‘simple’ accompaniment to the songs. Like a simple dressing to a salad.

On Huam Jenny, Ewan, Lauren and producer Andy Bell (who also worked with them on Undersong) added just that touch more melody and interest to the arrangements, making Huam sound like the perfect balance between Lay Your Dark Low and Undersong. To keep the salad comparison up, this time we don’t have a salad-with-dressing. Instead, we find little added surprises: some sundried tomatoes, some honey roasted cashew nuts, some rosemary spiced goats cheese, spicing up the ‘basic’ salad ever so nicely into something really delicate and special (And yes, I DID go to a fancy restaurant the evening before I wrote this review)

We are already getting to the end of the review. Just as the music on Huam, less is more. Huam is a truly stunning album that both me and my lovely editor Iris love. (Actually, we all love it at CeltCast HQ, Fire Light has even been voted to be the Monthly Marker for August.)
Sometimes I can compare Salt House’s music with the early work of Rachel Croft (The Disquiet for instance), sometimes with Cara (just listen to Union of Crows and you’ll understand why). Sometimes the band sounds light and cheerful like on All Shall Be Still, sometimes deeply traditional like on William and Elsie, and sometimes even Christmassy (add some *sleighbells* and Mountain Of Gold is the next CeltCast Christmas hit). Most of all they sound pure and honest, making Huam a beautiful singer-songwriter folk album. It’s one that I will be playing many times more after publishing this review. An A+ album if I would be giving points.



– Cliff

– Editor: Iris
– Picture: Salt House

Arthuan Rebis – La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo (2020) Review



When it comes to selecting the albums that we want to review Ilona and I work very closely together. Sometimes I find a band and enthusiastically share it with Ilona to get it played on Celtcast, so I am allowed to write a review on it. And sometimes Ilona drops me a line when she finds something really special in her mailbox. And that is just what happened with La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo. It started with one small line:
-‘Cliff, at the moment I’m chatting with Arthuan Rebis.
That was it. But five days later I got another message from Ilona:
-‘Cliff, I’m going to send a very special album to you. It is from the Italian artist Arthuan. He made this record as a Corona lock-down project, and I love it!!
Well, messages like that made me discover beautiful music of bands like Cara, Vilsevind and Rachel Croft, so my expectations were high! And, as always, I was not disappointed. La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo is an intriguing musical fairytale, calming, peaceful, and meditative. Arthuan Rebis recorded it all by himself, only assisted by narrator Paolo Tofani.
So come, let us travel to Italy together. Let’s travel to a spring that belonged only to the fairy people. Let’s go and listen to a story that started not that long ago. A story that started on March the 21st of this year.
Arthuan Rebis is the artist’s name of Italian composer, multi-instrumentalist, and free-spirited mind Alessandro Arturo Cucurnia. Arthuan, as we will continue to call him, has built up a quite interesting back catalog. Since 2011 he is a member of the Italian medieval/dance/performance act In Vino Veritas. We did a review on their latest album Grimorium Magi not that long ago [link]. He is also the founding member of The Magic Door, a band he started with film director, actress, and songwriter Giada Colagrande. We will dive into this intriguing band in a later review, but, having said that, those interested in world folk and art-pop should check this band out straight away.
Over the years Arthuan has studied traditional music from across the world. Finding an equal love for Nordic folk, Celtic music, and Eastern (read Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Indian) traditional music. His interest is also not limited by a time period, he is just as happy to play Medieval traditionals with In Vino Veritas as he is playing modern art-folk with The Magic Door.

All of those influences have found their way on La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo. A musical fairytale the artist started writing at the start of the Corona outbreak and subsequent lockdown, and that he finished around a month later. Aurore Invisibili, the first song on La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo, is a blueprint for the whole album. If you love this song you’ll love the whole album. No question about it! When I first heard it I described it as a mix of Emian and Vael. Calm meditative music almost leaning towards the new age sound, but never as sugar-coated.
In this song, no on this whole album, Arthuan brings two worlds together. On one hand you have the European folk side with instruments like the nyckelharpa, classical guitar, and harp. On the other you have the eastern influences of the Hulusi – a Chinese reed instrument – with its slightly haunted tone and the Indian Esraj – a string instrument played with a bow.
The combination of the two worlds gives you beautiful instrumental ballads, with a slightly sad and melancholic feel to them that just captures you deep within. Vael introduced the word Pan folk – world folk – to describe their music, and this is world folk at its very very best!



…A voice warm enough to melt chocolate icecream…

The title song La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo starts with Narrator Paolo Tofani reciting the first part of the fairy tale Arthuan has created. And what a voice Paolo has. A voice warm enough to melt chocolate icecream in a fridge. Rarely have I met somebody with soo much love in his voice. I now fully understand why women looooove Italians. Hearing Paolo talk even I go weak in the knees!
The story itself is about the fairy Alidoro. Here is what Arthuan tells us about it on his bandcamp page :
‘This album is a sort of “Musical Fairytale”, a guided journey, a night flight on the wings of the fairy Alidoro, in search of a disappeared humanity and the Great Heart. I started composing the music on March 21, 2020 and I finished the arrangements and mixing exactly one month later. This was my way of channeling and transforming the “lockdown” energies: trying to evoke the inspiration of Love of an Invisible Elsewhere that I have always perceived as present.

Well, I can tell you Arthuan succeeded. He is a wonderful composer! Honnestly. The way he combines the European folk sound with Eastern folk music. The way he manages to calm you down with every note he plays. Deliberately choosing the notes that will gently ease your mind in a gentle flow of relaxation. I have loved playing this record after a stressful workday, just to relax. The Third song Venti di Impermanenza is a perfect example of what I just described. It is such a beautiful song, that I have no words for it. Actually it is better that I have none, words would only disturb the moment.
Danze di Alidoro e Specchi di Rugiada is another one of those wonderful compositions. And Arthuan takes his time in this one. For 11:08 minutes he captives you in this 4 part world folk suite. In English the title of the song translates to: The dance of Alidoro in between mirrors of dew and it is done so exquisitely, so tastefully. Please listen to that beautiful rhythmical harp melody, repetative but never getting boring. Listen to those beautiful notes of the esraj and guitar, those touches of synthesizer, always coming and going, the music ever so gently increasing in strength, representing the waking day. It all sounds so simple and in that lies its beauty. Less is more. Let me rephrase that! less is pure beauty!

…This record is as pure as you can get…

Vael, Emian, new age music and every now and again touches of Mike Oldfield. That were the references that came to my mind while listening to la Primavera de Piccolo Popolo. Not totally true actually, I had one more reference I wrote down, but at first I discarded it as too obvious. I have a T’ai Chi CD at home – music purely made for meditation – and La Primavera del Piccolo Popolo has that same calming effect on me. ‘This would be such wonderful music to meditate to‘ I wrote. But as I said, I found it too obvious. I feared that, together with my reference to new age music, it would push this album in one certain corner. A corner that, considering all its quality, wouldn’t do justice to this wonderful album. So I decided to leave it out. That was until I read Arthuan’s biography and the part about his holistic activities:
‘ Since he was a child he has cultivated vocation, study, and research about spirituality and esotericism. He currently conducts seminars of the magical science of sound, meditation with the elements and connection and interaction with the invisible worlds.’

Well, you hear all that in la Primavera de Piccolo Popolo. This record is as pure as you can get. This album IS Alessandro Arturo Cucurnia in his musical form. This is everything he stands for.
The fact that it was created in just a month’s time is its biggest asset. It means the music isn’t polished out. It has kept its freshness, its innocence, its purity. This is the essence of Arthuan Rebis. This is the essence of what he wanted to say. And he said it beautifully!!! Thank you Arthuan!! Thank you Alidoro, for flying out that night in March, so we all could hear your wonderful story!

– Cliff

– editor: Anna Schürmann
– pictures: Arthuan Rebis

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