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Wouter en de Draak – Zonnewachter (2021) review

In 2018 I had the pleasure of reviewing Wouter en de Draak‘s self-titled debut album. In that review, I complimented Wouter en de Draak on their instrumental balfolk CD, and called it a wonderful mix of Breton folk music with a touch of Argentinian tango-like vibes. I called it a slightly melancholic album, in a positive way though.
-‘I cannot point out a single best song. This CD itself is the highlight. It is an album of consistent high quality. And it was a pleasure, a real pleasure to listen to. Although I used the word ‘melancholic’ a lot it’s not a sad CD. On the contrary. Yes, it makes me nostalgic, but in a good way. Remembering summers filled with fun and laughter. In an odd way, it makes me feel at home. It feels like a warm musical bath in which I can unwind and relax. This is not a ‘simple’ CD filled with balfolk tunes. This is a listening experience that will give you many enjoyable moments. Well done!’ Listening to the debut album three years later, I still stand by every word I wrote then.
Well, three years on, and the follow-up album, Zonnewachter, is turning its rounds in my CD player. To be honest, it has been doing so since May, so I have to start this review with an apology. Yes, I wanted to write about Zonnewachter a lot sooner but somehow life got in the way, so it’s only now that I have found the time to do so. ‘Better late than never’ as the saying goes. And trust me, this album is definitely worth the wait! I still love Wouter en de Draak’s debut album, but I consider Zonnewachter to be even better. Or should I say different? Yes, I think that is the better phrasing. Joris Alblas (acoustic guitar) and Wouter Kuyper (diatonic accordion, bagpipes), who together form Wouter en de Draak, have once again invited their friends Isaac Muller (Irish flute, tin whistle, bombarde), Frank van Vliet (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Roland Uijtdewilligen (percussion) to join in, and just as on the debut album they play a big role in the overall sound of Zonnewachter. But it hasn’t turned out as a ‘Wouter en de Draak‘ part 2. No, two new sounds were introduced on this album: the hurdy-gurdy (played by Harald Bauweraerts) and the bagpipes (played by Wouter Kuyper himself). And with the addition of these two instruments the sound shifts away from Brittany into …, ahm…., well…., ahm… I can’t really define it to a specific region anymore, to be honest, but trust me, it’s beautiful.

The opening track, Fireflies and Mosquitoes, still has that lovely French feel to it. That feel of a vibrant early summer evening; somewhere warm; with good friends around; a lot of wine flowing; and an occasional whack of the hand to get rid of those pesky buzzing garden friends that no one likes but always seem to be there.
At the start of the second song Legopolska, Wouter and Joris again take you to Brittany. Wouter Kuyper’s accordion sound is so quintessentially French to my ears. So full of emotion. It melts me away every time I hear it. But the Irish flute and tin whistle sound coming in during the later part of the song pull the melody away from the west of France, towards the green fields of Éire, their notes seem to float over the dark waters of the Irish loughs. Especially that tin whistle, light as a feather, faint as a fairy, dancing lovely above the music, truly magical. As I said before, at this point it doesn’t sound Breton anymore, but I also can’t call it Irish/Scottish folk. It’s a beautiful blend between the two.

Scottish Périphérique is a second example of that stylistic blend, (it’s even blending together in the name of the song itself), but this time we travel to the Scottish Highlands, we overlook the vast lochs of the Scottish coast, the sound of the bagpipes drifting away on the wind towards Ben Nevis. I really like this blending of the two styles. Both Legopolska and Scottish Périphérique mix a warming melancholic feel with a cheerfully upbeat smile. It gives the songs a real sense of depth, an extremely pleasurable listening experience. The best moment is halfway through Scottish Périphérique, where you will find a beautiful duet between Wouter on bagpipes and Harald on hurdy-gurdy. When you read this I can imagine you’ll think this will sound really loud (and rightfully so, both instruments can be really in your face), but no, surprisingly, it is not. Both soloists play their instruments with such delicacy that it reminds me a lot of the beautiful blending solos on Trolska Polska‘s Eufori album, sometimes in harmony with each other, sometimes challenging each other, chasing each other’s notes, making Scottish Périphérique my first highlight on this CD!

It is instantly followed by highlight number two: the song Mazurmeau (a mazurka). It starts with the open sound of Joris’ DADGAD guitar, the delicate touch of Wouter Kuyper’s accordion making it into a touching ballad. The Irish whistle solo of Isaac Muller just adds to the tender feel of the song. But when Frank van Vliet adds his muffled trumpet, I really get swept off my feet. So delicate! So touching! The duet that follows between trumpet and flute is truly breathtaking. Just as with the debut album, the guest musicians are not there to fill up the sound. NOOO, they are such an important part of this stunning CD. All of them are capable of putting so much emotion and feeling into their instruments that I constantly forget this is an instrumental album. Or maybe it just isn’t. Maybe it ÍS a CD filled with voices. It just happens to be instruments instead of vocals communicating the emotions, that’s all.

The guitar intro of Costa Gwad takes me back to Monsieur 7, my favorite song of the first album. But before I sink into a pleasurable melancholic mood, the upbeat, jazzlike rhythm gets me on the edge of my seat again. That’s the story of Zonnewachter actually: where the debut album was a clear trip down Brittany, this album is an accumulation of different Western European styles. Lovely to dance to, and a joy to explore on your couch with a set of headphones. Just listen to the skills of the musicians, and the way their sound blends together. All of them so talented, none of them showing off, all of them playing in service of the song.
This is what makes Zonnewachter such a pleasurable album to listen to. The song is always in the foreground. Be it in a ballad, like in the song Turning 84 which is a beautiful blend between Breton folk and an Argentinian tango feel; a bourrée like Dusgemint where Wouter en de Draak mix up Celtic folk with medieval a medieval feel, (Especially in the way Wouter uses his bagpipes. I mistakenly took it for a bombarde at first); or the song Gavotte Caresse which strongly reminds me of the instrumental ballads of the German band Cara, while Berggavotte has that cool medieval vibe happening again.

Speaking of the bands musical skills, I seriously thought I heard a set of Uilleann pipes the first time I listened to Gavotte Caresse. Wouter has such a delicate touch that I still cannot believe it’s actually bagpipes I hear. I never thought I would say it, but the duet between the trumpet and the bagpipes sounds so light. It truly is as if the instruments are stroking your ears. Stunning, truly stunning.

I could name all twelve songs on Zonnewachter, I truly could. Zonnewachter is a wonderful album to listen to. It is also a true balfolk album, filled with waltzes, two gavottes, a jig, a polka and a kost ar c’hoad (a circle dance traditional to Brittany from the same family as the gavotte), a polska, a scottish, and a mazurka.
With Zonnewachter Wouter and Joris have made an album that is still clearly connected to the music of Brittany, but the duo has incorporated so many other elements that it is hard for me to define it as one certain style. The big question is: ‘Do I need to?’ The answer is: ‘No, I do not!’ Good music has no boundaries. It is universal, just like dance is. It is a language we ALL share. Zonnewachter can be defined as Western European balfolk with an Argentine touch.
It can also be defined as a highly entertaining instrumental folk album. If you don’t have it yet, make sure you put it on your wishlist.
As for me, I hope Wouter en de Draak are already planning their third album, because I can’t wait to see where their music will lead them next!


editor: Iris
album Cover: Tineke Lemmens
pictures: Wouter en de Draak

New Wave Paganfolk! Waldkauz Style!

Mythos, the second album by the German pagan folk band Waldkauz made a huge impact on me when I reviewed it a couple of years ago. It still is one of my favourite pagan folk albums ever! Since then I saw many a show of these beautiful souls, and loved them even more because of it. So it was with high expectations I put Labyrinth in my CD player. And???? Well, they delivered! Well, they delivered! I still find myself spontaneously humming songs from Labyrinth, even weeks after finishing my review. And I will probably do so for many more months to come, I am quite sure of that!
But Waldkauz didn’t do it the easy way. They could have just made a Mythos part 2 and harvest on the success of that album. But they choose not to. Labyrinth shows a band developing themselves; a band showing an open-minded approach to their music; adding new elements into their sound; making them a truly unique band.
When you Google Waldkauz you will see that they open their website with: ‘Waldkauz – new Wave Paganfolk’. So what does new wave paganfolk sound like? Well full of energy and extremely danceable! I can tell you that much. But you want to know more? Well you can! The whole story is just one click away. Follow the link and dance into the world of New Wave Paganfolk! Im Waldkauz stil selbstverstandlich!


Reconnecting with my passion: Jyoti Verhoeff’s new album The Sky of You

Music has been a passion of mine since my teens. The nights I’ve spent in my candlelight room, sitting on my bed, record player on my right, sound boxes on both sides for maximum effect. Playing records like Dire Straits Alchemy Live , Mike Oldfield’s Incantations, The Door’s Absolutely live album, or Jeff Wayne’s War of the worlds. I still cherish those nights. Somehow I’ve always felt a deep emotional connection with music. With a good song, I can feel every note played. Not that I can play myself or that I can sing, no I just connect with it. In a deeply emotional way. A good song makes me cry, shiver, smile, dance or feel deeply, deeply happy. It makes me let go of all the things that bother me at that specific point in time. Music has always been my means of escape, my way of coping with the world. A world that for a large part of my younger years was a big, scary, frightening thing.
I also always wanted to share that passion. I wanted to share the music that meant so much to me. I still do. Working for CeltCast gave me the platform to do that. To reach out to you all and share the beautiful music that I am allowed to hear. So I did. With all my heart.
The downside of it is: there is this risk of a passion becoming ‘a job’. That you feel you are obliged to write with the same passion about every album you are asked to listen to. Which is impossible. One is bound to fail if one tries. So I failed, big time. So much so I almost wanted to stop writing reviews altogether.
And then Jyoti Verhoeff released this album. The Sky of You. As I listened to it Jyoti opened every single door to my heart. Her music took me on a much-needed journey. Deep into my soul. Hitting every nerve it found on its way. And as happened so many times before the music became the answer I needed. While listening I found my passion back. I wanted to write about this. I HAD to write about it! Not only about this CD, but also about some other lovely albums I had listened to during my absence the last months.
…..But first The Sky of You. And I sincerely hope you will enjoy this beautiful record just as much as I did. Here it is.


Waldkauz – Labyrinth (2021) review

When I think of Waldkauz I always think of Freundshaft und Lebensfreude (friendship and enjoyment of life). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Waldkauz play live in several different line-ups and every change felt like there were more friends added to the musical family, and their music always represented that positive feel. It does again on the new album Labyrinth. So what changed in the Waldkauz tribe? Let’s pick up the story with the release of Mythos. At that time bass player Andi Douwt was added to the live band, giving the live performances a lot more power and energy. After Gina Klause decided to step away from the spotlight two of the Brisinga girls, Fanny Herbst (Celtic harp, vocals) and Fabi Kirschke (Hurdy Gurdy, flutes, vocals) stepped in to help out, enriching the live show with their positive energy and musical talents. And Waldkauz kept inviting more and more friends to the family with Adriana Borger (Hurdy Gurdy) joining their live band as a stand-in for Fabi. All who were there will definitely remember the 2019 Castlefest performances with both Fabi and Adriana on stage. The energy was radiating from the stage.
In the background, Nina, Niklas, Peter, and Andi (who by now had officially joined the band), were already jamming with the next potential members of the Waldkauz family and in December 2019 it was announced that Alana Bennett (Celtic harp, hurdy Gurdy, violin, vocals) and Diana Koper (vocals) would join the band. With that line-up the band returned to the studio in the summer of 2020 and together with Alex Schulz ( Tonschale studio )- who also worked with Faun, Kaunan, Fiona, Feengold, and In Extremo to name a few- they recorded Labyrinth. And it is that album that is lying in front of me right now.
Now with the new line-up, Waldkauz also changed their logo, from the more stylistic, fluid old one to a more dark, tribal logo. So I was kinda expecting a more tribal sound as well. Something in the direction of Brisinga maybe? Or even Cuélebre? Well, I can tell you the band tricked me. Big time actually. They were always one of the most melodic pagan folk bands out there, equalled only by Faun, and they went up a notch on Labyrinth. The main change is in the rhythm section. Where on Mythos Peter took care of the rhythm alone, using the typical tribal drum sound, leaning heavily on the deep tom sound almost all pagan folk bands share, the band now has more options with bass player Andi joining the rhythm section. It makes Peter switch to the more ‘standard way of drumming we know from regular pop bands, more focused on the snare drum, giving the band a much more pop-folk sound. A bit English, I would say. Is that a bad thing? Hell no. After my initial surprise, I’ve come to love the album. Especially those first 3 opening songs Walking The Labyrinth, Beltane, and Schwingen where you hear that new sound best. The band is on fire on those tracks. New additions Diana and Alana jump out straight away on Walking the Labyrinth. Alana has written an infectious earworm of a hurdy-gurdy hook if I ever heard one, the song is fast, full of energy and power, so MUCH power. I called it pop-folk a minute ago but is is actually way more energetic than that. You could almost call it pagan rock. But it’s not that either. Waldkauz’s sound on Labyrinth is powerful, danceable, but clean. It doesn’t have the distorted sound you would associate with a rock band. No, the band just wants your listening experience to turn into a party. A huge party I can tell you. I dare everybody to try and stay seated while listening to Labyrinth. No? Didn’t work? Told you so! I can’t name a band that comes close to Waldkauz’s sound at this point. The question: is do I need to? The answer is NO! Waldkauz sounds just like Waldkauz! And that should be enough. A grooving, moving pagan folk dance machine! I can NOT sit still listening to songs like Walking The Labyrinth, Beltane, Epane, Dance Macabre or Schwingen. Just listen to that cool Omnia -like hurdy-gurdy hook (with an even cooler call-and-response section in there); the melodious bass lines Andi is throwing out; the groove he and Peter create together, the cool hooks and catchy solo’s and melodie lines Nina, Alana, Niklas, and yes even, Andi and Peter throw around as if it were the easiest thing in the world. The years of touring and performing made this band grow into a true festival headliner.

Schwingen is a second song with that strong folk-rock/dance feel. A power balled that I just adore. Strong, STRONG drum/bass guitar sound, (thank you, Alex Schulz, for capturing that jawdropping rhythm section) powerful vocals, I love the break, I love the drive in this song, I love the acoustic bouzouki start, and then that alto recorder weaving it’s magic all through the song. WOW! By far my personal favourite on Labyrinth. And then I haven’t even mentioned Beltane yet. Why? Well besides an awesome sound Waldkauz also gained two tremendous voices with Alana and Diana. And Beltane is the best song to focus on that. It starts with Nina and Diana harmonizing together, often accompanied by Alana on backing vocals, and they just rock it. Those voices fit sooo well together. Diana has a beautiful clear and warm alto, and Nina’s voice, as we know, circles around the same region. Together they sound awesome. You can hear it on Beltane, on Schwingen and on many more songs…So much so that they even recorded an a-capella poem with the last song Des Dichters Segen. Well, I call it a blessing for my ears

After this furious start, I needed a moment to catch my breath and the band gives me that with the ballad He Missed The Stars, featuring the lovely warm vocals of Niklas. This song soon flows into a beautiful duet between Niklas and Nina, accompanied by Alana on Celtic harp. I’m already looking forward to hearing this live on stage. All the songs actually. They all already sound great on CD, but I think this album will rock even more in a live setting. I can’t wait.
Reading the lyrics and liner notes, I feel there are two main themes flowing through Labyrinth that really belong together: A longing for freedom, especially freedom of the mind, and the search for personal growth. The Labyrinth in a way is a symbol of life, for all the twists and tails you’ll find on your path while you travel the road of life. It also represents Waldkauz’s positive view of it. It tells us that no matter what happens there is a way, and quite often freedom of mind is reached when you take the longer, harder road. I love the way the songs are chosen to represent that road. From the start of your travels in Walking The Labyrinth to finding your place in Home.
Much thought went into that. Much thought also went into where to put which style of pagan folk on the album. Musically the CD is just as much a journey as are the themes and lyrics of the various songs.

As I said: adding the new band members gave the band more options. After the The Corrs -like ballad He Missed The Stars we get Bayushki Bayu which with its medieval-sounding, waltz-like theme kinda reminds me of Blackmore’s Night . even though it is is an adaptation of a Russian lullaby. Epane is a lovely dance song that would have the masses going again at any concert. Rastaban meets Zirp, that might be the best description. Kein Rechter Weg is the darkest song on Labyrinth. As Niklas explained to us:’Kein Rechter Weg is explicitly an anti-fascist song against the use of ‘Norse’ culture by right wing groups and neo-nazis.’ A message I fully support. It is also the most tribal song on this album. After the ‘dark’ and strong message of Kein Rechter Weg, things lighten up again with Dance Macabre. Did I just say lighten up? While it is the song of death? Yes, for me the message is clear again. Since we all are gonna die anyway, why not make a party out of it. And a party this song is. A full-on pagan folk party!! That is the cool thing about this album. Waldkauz has kept all the cool elements that made them such an awesome band, to begin with. The strong harmonies, the feel-good vibes, their melodic qualities, their musicality, and their pagan message! They just added the energy of good pop-rock to the mix, and I for one love that they did that. Yes, it took me a moment to adjust. It was not what I expected, but it gives their third album a freshness that is infectious. So well done for growing, for daring to walk the labyrinth. It gave us a stunning album and a great new sound. The Waldkauz sound!

And with that, to my own surprise, I suddenly find myself at the end of the review. I’ll leave it to you dear reader to discover gems like Far Vel (Waldkauz meets Brisinga meets Nordic folk, with a guest appearance of Faber Horbach of Sowulo ), or the lovely a-capella sung poem Des Dichters Segen featuring all four voices of Waldkauz blending beautifully together. But there is still one song I want to mention and it is called Home. It is a lovely, mostly instrumental, power ballad, slightly jazzy, as if Dan Ar Braz met Zirp in the Waldkauz studio, and last but not least it features Andi Douwt. This allows me a little sidenote. In 2019 Andi released a solo album called Elegy. It contains really laid-back, improvised bass guitar soundscapes with a slight easy listening jazzy feel to them. It’s an album that my girlfriend and I love, but it is also too far off from the acoustic folk genre to be eligible for a CeltCast review. I am so happy that Waldkauz allowed Andi to do a bit of that style of bass playing on Home. It means I can finally mention his solo work here. If you like his improvisation in Home than go check out Elegy too. And so we end where I started. Waldkauz’s music stands for two words: Lebensfreude, and Freundschaft. That is what makes this band so very special. That, and heaps, HEAPS of talent!


Editor: Sara
cover illustration: Joan Llopis Doménech
Album Design:Benjamin Urban (HYGIN GRAPHIX)
Picture: Samantha Evans: Balm and Bitterness

Presenting the music of HIMLA

A band that combines Scandinavian folk with singer-songwriter skills, artpop and chamber music, using the unique combination of vocals, guitar, cello and…..Bass Clarinet. It was an interesting mix I saw when I got my hands on HIMLA‘s debut album called Himla. I was intrigued, to say the least.
Well, it ended up being a brilliant mix! One that is right up my sleeve. And it will be up the sleeves of everybody that loves the alternative Scandinavian folk scene, trust me! So follow the link and dive into the world of HIMLA. A world that is as intriguing as it is beautiful.
Ha det gøy med oppdagelsesreisen!



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