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

Hamish Napier – The Railway (2018) review



Little did I know what a treasure chest of music I would discover when Mark van der Stelt suggested I should write an introduction to Back of the Moon‘s album Luminosity. Not only was the music by the band itself mesmerizing, but so were the projects that the band were involved with afterward. There is the singer/songwriter extraordinaire Findlay Napier, (go check out his three solo albums and discover the magic of ‘just’ a voice and a guitar), there is the lovely Celtic folk on Pendulum, Gillian Frame‘s 2016 solo album I reviewed a couple of months ago (link), and I haven’t even started exploring the trazillion records Ali Hutton has been involved with. But today I want to focus on the lovely concept folk albums of composer and multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier, something I have wanted to do from the moment I first listened to them on bandcamp. Earlier I combined his two nature-inspired albums: The River (2016) and The Woods (2020) in one review [here], now I will focus on the third solo album Hamish has recorded up till now: The Railway.
portrait Hamish Napier Hamish Napier, to quote the bio on his webpage:
-“ is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America with Scottish folk quartet Back of the Moon (‘Folk Band of the Year 2005’ MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards). Gaining degrees in Astronomy and Music when he first moved from his native Highlands to the city of Glasgow, Hamish was then awarded a year’s scholarship to study jazz piano and composition at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. Hamish now teaches composition and music theory at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at music schools and festivals worldwide. He has recently returned to his native Strathspey, composing three solo albums The River (2016), The Railway (2018), and The Woods (2020) in celebration of his homeland.
When Hamish performed The River live in Grantown in summer ’16, Karen Blessington approached him enthusiastically after the show, inviting him to compose a soundtrack to her exciting new venture, the Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre. And the rest, as they say, is history. During the making of this album, Hamish talked a lot with former railwaymen Jimmy Gray (then 93), Jacky Hay (then 94), and James Telfer (then 94). The Railway is as much their story as it is Hamish’s.

The record kicks off with The Speyside Line. As on the whole record, Hamish combines his love for piano and whistles with his talent to compose really catchy instrumental Celtic folk songs that are rich in tradition but with a modern, slightly jazzy sound. Those jazzy laid back drums and double bass lines are what make his folk music so accessible. The song is about the Spey line itself, its route never far from the river, sometimes almost hanging over it, and – listening to the music – traveling it must have been beautiful. Hamish – the composer – has this special ability to take a picture in notes, to create a drawing in his melody lines, and on The Speyside Line he makes us re-live every bend of this historic line.

‘A pair of tunes for a pair of steam locomotives’ That’s how Hamish introduces Double Header, the second song on The Railway. And yes Hamish did indeed write a song to immortalize two famous old steam locomotives. Even more actually. For the steam geeks here is the rest of Hamish’s introduction:
‘The first tune is for ‘The Hikers’ of the Highland Railway, the popular ‘Black 5’ (LMS Class 5) which driver Jocky Hay praised as a “damn good engine!” The second is for The Sojer, the Gordon Highlander, the Speyside Line’s most beloved LNER D40. The Strathspey Railway’s beautifully restored Ivatt Class 2 locomotive also gets a wee mention, its British Rail train number ‘46512’ is also the chord sequence in the bridge between the two tunes!’
I love reading those introductions. It really brings the music and story together in a funny and witty way. The song itself starts with some lovely upbeat variations on flute and violin representing ‘the Hikers’ of the Highland railway before the highland pipes slowly ‘merge’ in to represent ‘the Sojer’ of the Speyside line.

Next up is Jocky the Mole and it brings back the glory days of Back of the Moon, with the brothers Napier joining forces one more time. Findlay takes the vocals twice on The Railway: in this song, and in The World Came In By Rail. Both are, as we Dutch say, pearls of Celtic singer-songwriter folk music that would not have sounded out of place on that classic album Luminosity. My first highlight of the CD.
It is followed straight by my second highlight: The Firebox. Don’t ask me HOW Hamish did it, but I can just see the flames licking through the coals as the fire is lit in the firebox. You can feel the engine heating up, you can feel the immense power, that was able to pull all those carriages up the Hills awakening. The steal muscles of the mighty machine gearing up for action. The deep double bass rhythm in the song represents that mighty power, the flute and fiddle variations represent the fire jumping and licking over the coals as the fireman shoved shovel after shovel of fuel into the firebox.



The Old Ways is:
[quote] ‘a slow 6/8 march written in honour of the traditional skills, trades, and ways of life lovingly preserved by historians and enthousiasts[…][..]celebrating what is unique and special about our culture.’
Up The Hill starts as a lovely song with a mesmerizing flute solo that gently eases your mind into a state of calm. If you would tell me that it is about hanging in a grass field with a strand of grass in my mouth, chilling while I am looking at the clouds passing by overhead I would have believed you. But… …the second part of the song O’er Drumochter would not fit at all, so it can’t be. And indeed it isn’t. It is about the climb to Drumochter summit, the highest part of the Scottish railway, and the struggle the old steam engines had getting up there. The story is captured wonderfully in the booklet, told by the old railwayman Jimmy Gray. As I said, this is as much the old railwaymen’s story as anything else. And Hamish is a master in capturing that.
This is proven best in Helen’s Song. A heartfelt ballad that Hamish composed in memory of Jimmy Gray’s wife Helen, who was with him for 63 years. Starting as a beautiful piano piece, it is Patsy Reid and her string skills that make Helen’s Song an exquisite homage to a lifetime of love.

But this album is not only the story of the railwaymen, in Dr. McGugan’s and Cheery Groove the story gets a true personal touch. The first song is an air written as a gift to a close friend, the second song a slip jig composed for his parents, in memory of all the great house ceilidhs -social gatherings- with friends and family over the years. In an interview, Hamish said that he finds it extremely important not to separate the ‘folk’ from the music and that is the power of this beautiful CD. The magic of it lies in the combination of music and the story told in the booklet, which was sometimes witty as the old railwaymen told their anecdotes, sometimes interesting as Hamish went into the history of the line itself, sometimes touching and beautiful as proven in Helen’s Song. I loved reading it.



This is one of those albums that got me writing as soon as I heard the first notes. Not to outdo The River,which I love, and The Woods, also a strong and unique Celtic folk album, I arguably consider The Railway to be Hamish’s best record yet. (This is a purely personal opinion though, so feel free to disagree.) Gems like Diesel, Jocky The Mole, and Helen’s Song have helped this album find its way into my CD player time and time again.
Together the trilogy of The River, The Railway, and The Woods is a true homage to the Cairngorms, the place where Hamish Napier grew up, the place he now calls home again. On the postcard that goes with the CDs it says:’ Hamish Napier; Scottish Highlander – Folk Musician – Composer – Tutor. To put it in THAT order is a clear statement! Through ALL of Hamish’s his solo work you can hear the love and pride he has for his home country, for the people that live in it, for the history of the land, for his beloved Highlands! And the best thing about it? He is not done yet! The fourth album is already on its way. I can’t wait to hear it!

– Cliff

-editor: Iris de Wolf
-pictures: Hamish Napier

If you would like to support Hamish Napier you can find him on:
Bandcamp
Facebook or
Patreon

Hamish Napier – The River (2016) / The Woods (2020) Review



The Cairngorms, a rugged mountain range in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland, nicely nestled in between the cities Inverness, Aberdeen, and Dundee. For me, it is one of my bucket list places to go. Ever since I was a kid the Highlands have had a magical attraction on me. Don’t ask me why a young Dutch kid would dream of hiking in the Scottish mountains, but I did. And that longing for anything Scottish never stopped, hence my utter joy when the last few episodes of BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch, and Winterwatch were all recorded within the boundaries of the Cairngorm national park.
The Cairngorms, not only are they one of my favourite spots in the world; not only are they the stage for one of the best real-life nature programmes ever made; but they are also the home of former Back of the Moon multi-instrumentalist Hamish Napier. And just like the BBC Springwatch team sparked my love for the region even more with their wonderful camera work, Hamish managed to do exactly the same with his music. The River (2016), The Railway (2018) – an album I will introduce in a separate review- and The Woods (2020). are dedicated to this wonderful bit of the Scottish countryside.
As this review will be about two records and I have a limited amount of space available to do so, I’ll leave introducing Hamish Napier for now and go straight into the music itself. If you want to know more about this talented Scottish folk composer and multi-instrumentalist, just follow this link to the review of The Railway, where I do have the space to introduce him properly.

In 2016 The River, an instrumental concept folk CD celebrating the river Spey, was released. Hamish’s explains
: -“The river brings to the surface vivid images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home. One of my brothers fished it, the other canoed it, my uncle Sam photographed it, my friends and I swam in it, my mother paints it and there’s my father’s daily fascination with its erratically changing water level. It will always symbolize home and a strong connection to nature.

That connection to nature is clear from the very first song on this album, called Mayfly. Mayflies are aquatic insects closely related to dragonflies and damselflies. For the best part of the year, they live a secret life as nymphs underwater, but for a few warm days in the late spring, they hatch in their millions. Only living for a couple of hours – days at best – the whole purpose of the adult mayfly is to mate. The males will ‘dance’, flying up and down above the water to attract a female. Having so many insects do that at one time is a magical sight and Hamish Napier managed to capture that beautifully. The sound of the keyboard and flutes weave and wave through the song, just as the mayfly would do above the water. Listening to the music, you can really see the spectacle before your very eyes. A moment of calm in the music may represent a salmon rising up or a gust of wind pushing the mayfly down, and then a final tin whistle solo pushes the song to a powerful climax. This Proves that Hamish is not only a talented soloist, but also a skilled composer.

This is a skill he proves again with the second song on this album, the title track The River. The music is so well-composed that you only have to close your eyes and you will see the water. You will feel the water pass, you will see the sparks of light blinding your eyes as the ripples of water reflect the sun. You will sense the birds nesting in the reed along the banks of this beautiful river.
That magic is retained in The Whirlpool. Once again a lovely flute melody takes you by the hand and leads you deep into Hamish’s youth. Come to think of it, THAT is exactly how this album sounds: like childhood memories put to music. In every note, Hamish manages to capture the beauty of the Spey, the nature around it, and the people living around this Scottish river. The result is magical. The music just sparkles from beginning to end. A CD that will appeal to the fans of pagan folk and Celtic folk alike.



It is not all jolly times and happiness though. Like almost everything in nature, a river not only gives but sometimes also takes, and the river Spey is no exception. Drowning of the Silver Brothers is a poignant tribute to the dangers that lie hidden in the depths of the river. It is a beautiful duet between flute and piano, and one of the highlights on this album.
Musically, The River is a cool mix between traditional folk solos (mainly on the flutes), a touch of chamber music piano, and a modern easy listening bass/drums rhythm section. The jazziest of them all are the songs Floating and Huy Huy!. Two lovely Celtic flute themes put over a Shakatak kind of jazz guitar/bass/piano groove, one theme sliding effortlessly into the other.
Iasgairean Nan Neamhnaid (The Pearlfishers) is the last song on The River that I want to mention myself. A strong musical statement against the destruction of nature. The last word on The River I give to Hamish Napier, in a musical way. Here he is performing the last track of the CD: Spey Cast part 2, The Raft Race.





HAMISH NAPIER – THE WOODS (2020)

cover The Woods (2020)

While The River is overflowing with powerful musical memories, The Woods is different, mainly because of the main theme Hamish choose for it. Instead of going for the ‘obvious’ main subjects (the majestic green skyline, the morning choir of songbirds; or the rut of the red deer), Hamish went for a different approach. Whereas he used to view “the woods” as a single, impressive entity as a child, he now sees all the different ‘actors’ that make up the woods; the mighty oak, the pioneering birch, but also the smaller bushes, the all-important insects, even the humble mycorrhizal fungi have found a place in Hamish’s songs.
The Gaelic alphabet was traditionally taught to children through the old names of the native trees, and this is the theme Hamish picked up again for his musical interpretation of the Woods, making the CD sound a wee bit less impressive from what I had assumed beforehand, but this concept definitely brings out the best in Hamish as a contemporary folk composer.

Again Hamish manages to captivate you from the very first notes of his CD. Again that ‘sparkling’ positive feel is in his playing. The Pioneer is not only a song about the first letter of the early medieval alphabet: the B, but also about one of the first trees to spread across the post ice age landscape, one of the first trees to open their leaves in spring, the Birch. It also sounds like the start of spring, the start of early morning, so it is in many ways the perfect start to The Woods.

I love the second song. It’s not about a tree and also not a letter of the Gaelic alphabet, but about one of the many creatures living in the Scottish Highlands, the Capercaillie. Hamish says the following about it: “The Capercaillie is an otherworldly creature. The male birds are as giant as they are cantankerous and famed for their clicks, pops, and flutter jumps at the ‘lek’ during mating season. With Egyptian eyeliner, a Japanese fantail, velvet green neck plumage, and a fierce hooked beak, the giant grouse fly through the Scots pinewood canopy with all the grace of a cannonball. Capercaillies have been known to take on foes several times their own size, including stationary Land Rovers.
This quote is taken from the extensive booklet going with The Woods, a booklet filled with information about the featured trees, mixed with some local stories, a bit of Gaelic folklore, and of course Hamish his own personal memories, all brought together through the stunning pen drawings by Somhairle MacDonald.
The song The Capercaillie Rant / An Taghan, itself is a cheerful Celtic tin whistle/Highland pipe melody in a lovely contemporary pop jacket. Think of the style of the German band Cara on their Horizon album or of course Hamish’s old band Back Of The Moon.

The Tree Of Blessings is a lovely short piano piece dedicated to the juniper bush, and is a strong, rather pop-like song. The same goes for The Tree of Luck, (pop meets Celtic folk ballad). Just as The River, The Woods is an instrumental folk CD. But despite it being 66 minutes long divided over 21 tracks it has enough variation to keep you fascinated till the very last note.
Describing al 21 tracks would be rather pointless, so I’m just going to pick out some personal highlights. The first of them the jazzy folk ballad Mycorrhiza/The Tree Of Life. A lovely composition.
Another one comes immediately after that: track 6, called The Tree of Life / The Three of Lightning. It’s about the mighty Oak tree and its smaller neighbour, the holly. In folklore, the Holly King and the Oak King used to overpower one another at the solstices, with the Oak King dominating the summer and the Holly King the winter. Starting small, this song quickly evolves into an instrumental power ballad, clearly inspired by this age-old battle of the seasons. This is a relatively short, powerful song that will be loved by people who are into Celtic folk and pagan folk alike.

The Tree of Knowledge is a lovely, tender piano ballad, inspired both by the hazel, a tree that according to the Celts represented wisdom and poetic inspiration. It was also composed in honour of Rosie Fisher, a family friend of the Napiers who made two wood sculptures, one depicting Pan, and the other depicting the American naturalist, writer, and philosopher Thoreau. These inspirations, rather than the obvious ones, are what make The Woods such an interesting CD. You clearly hear the poet, the philosopher, the sculptor in this song. As a folk ballad, The Tree of Knowledge is already lovely, together with the story in the booklet it becomes magic.

Forest Folk is another one of those songs with a twist. Listening to it, it is a lovely cheerful tune, an instant earworm actually. Hamish explains this track is about all the small flowers, shrubs, mosses, and lichen you find in the woods. It is also dedicated to all those who wander in the woods, looking at all the wonders of the forests, those who take the time to find beauty in the small things in life.

You will probably realize by now that this album is actually a musical adventure. Just like the forest at first glance, appears to be a sea of green, this album at first glance seems to be ‘just’ an instrumental pop/folk album. But don’t be fooled. Take your time with and this record will ever so slowly reveal its inner beauty, bit by bit. Just as the forest will reveal ITS magic to all of us who dare to wander deep into its dark, green, but oh so majestic heart.
If you love Celtic music; focussed on flute and piano; with delicate splashes of pipes and guitar; firmly connected in tradition but with a modern sound; and if you happen to love nature as well, then The River and The Woods are an enrichment of your music collection. No doubt about that!



– Cliff

– editor: Iris de Wolf
-Picture: Hamish Napier

If you would like to support Hamish Napier you can find him on:
Bandcamp
Facebook or
Patreon

Myrkur – Folkesange (2020) review

Myrkur - Folkesange cover

Myrkur on CeltCast? Really? If someone had told me that I would be writing a review of a Myrkur album, or that a Myrkur song would become a Monthly Marker, I would have laughed you straight in the face. Loudly actually! Up till now, the black metal Myrkur played was as far away from the CeltCast format as artistically possible. It was one of our photographers, Andre Willemse, that tipped us off that Folkesange, Myrkur’s newest record, was totally different. So the music team gave it a go… ….and totally fell in love with this exceptional Scandinavian folk album. Because that is what Folkesange is. Gone are all the blast beats, the battering guitar riffs, and the extreme black metal screams. Instead, we have a peaceful acoustic Scandinavian folk album. I can imagine the surprise on some metalheads faces when they heard this record for the first time, but from the CeltCast point of view we are quite happy that, the artist behind Myrkur, showed yet another side of her diverse musical personality.
Researching Amalie’s musical history gave me one of the most interesting stories I’ve seen in a long time. Amalie was born in Denmark in 1985 and she released her first record ‘Amalie Bruun‘ which she wrote together with her father in 2006. In 2008 she recorded the theme song for the American reality show Paradise Hotel. The single, If You Give It Up, is actually a quite catchy pop song with a lovely Indian theme hidden inside. Following this first success she went to New York later in 2008. At that same time she recorded the EP Housecat, a very nice mix between alternative pop and singer-songwriter material. As if BjörkHuman Behavior– met EmiliaBig Big World – on a Suzanne Vega party. I’m definitely going to try to get my hands on this interesting EP. Housecat won Amalie the New York Songwriters Circle International Award. In 2010, still under the name Amalie Bruun she released the EP Branches, less Björk, more Emilia, still catchy as hell, her future in the American charts seemed certain.

But Amalie (picture with kind permission of Daria Endresen) decided differently, starting an interesting journey through music land, which tells me that she has a really broad taste in music and the ‘balls’ to go her own way.
After working together with producer Mark Saunders and Rapper R.A. the Rugged Man, she ends up the band Ex Cops, with whom she recorded two albums, True Hallucinations (2013) and Daggers (2014). Their sound combined the sound of the Cardigans with electro-pop tracks and ,again, splashes of Bjórk. The Ex Cops broke up in 2015, and by then Amalie was already working on a secret project for Relapse Records: a black metal (!) project under the name of Myrkur, miles away from the singer-songwriter/alternative pop/rock music she was making up to that point.
Now I have to admit that black metal is one of the few genres of music that just doesn’t do anything for me, so I will not comment on any of the 2 EP’s or 3 records she has released under the Myrkur name, other than that it sounds rather melodic for a black metal band, and reading the internet comments she seems to have divided the black metal community slightly. With some calling her the fresh breeze of air the scene needed, and others expressing their dislike in the nice ‘polite’, ‘constructive’ manner that seems so ‘normal’ on the internet nowadays (NOT!) But now we have Folkesange, an acoustic Scandinavian folk album that again is a 180-degree twist in style that will, I am sure of that, raise even more discussion within the black metal world.

Will we do that too? Well no! First of all I fully understand why she did. Why do artists always have to bind themselves to one style? There is so much music to be explored. Why should fans decide what music an artist should make?
And secondly, Folkesange is actually a really good album that we all love at CeltCast HQ. Alex even insisted I should write this review. And no wonder. What binds all of Amalie’s music together is her ability to write and record really catchy music, and Folkesange is no exception.

First to open the new album is the single Ella, a song written by Amalie herself, and straight away she lays her first artistic trump card on the table. Her beautiful voice with just a beat under it. A voice that is strong and captivating. This is followed by her second trump card, an orchestra of ancient Scandinavian folk that sweeps you away to times gone by. A really impressive start to the song ánd to the whole cd. During the song the arrangements become more modern, drifting towards the choral sound of Adiemus, tying together the modern with the old.



Fager Som En Ros is just as catchy, upbeat, and with a prominent place for the ancient Swedish instruments: the nyckelharpa, and the stråkharpa. giving the song a nice deep sound with Myrkur’s voice floating above it. Kaunan meets Kati Rán would probably be the best way to describe this song. Halfway through the song Myrkur throws in her final trump card: a powerful yoik cutting through the deep harpa sound. Mesmerizing. That yoik will return a couple of times more on Folkesange and was actually the trigger to buy the album myself.

Leaves Of Yggdrasil is a touching ballad, mixing the modern new-age sound of Adiemus and Clannad, with the ancient feel of Scandinavian folk and the angelic sound of the Sami yoik. Christopher Juul, ( Euzen, Heilung) as always, did a wonderful job recording it all. Together with Amalie, he created an album that sounds cold and white, which takes you deep into the fjords and woods of the Scandinavian peninsula. A sound that trembles ancient history and yet is as fresh as the first snow in early winter.

This feeling is even more present when listening to Tor I Holheim. I still remember the first time I heard someone singing a yoik. It was one of a few some small documentaries highlighting ancient traditions on Discovery Channel , and featured a Sami lady, with her colourful traditional clothing, who was filmed in a stunning white and green world that make up the beautiful pine forests of the deep Arctic north. She was explaining about her life, about how she traveled with the reindeer, the animals that still provide the Sami livelihood. And then she sang. An angelic high chant. A chant without words. A chant only meant to evoke or reflect an animal, a place, or a person. It fitted so perfectly, it gave me shivers down my spine. I’d never again came across a vocalist that had the same impact on me as that young Sami singer in that documentary. Until now that is! Listening to those first notes of Tor I Holheim, bringing back that beautiful memory, was enough to hit the buy button right there and then. Stunning, just stunning!



I could go on and on about Folkesange, but why would I. Every song is a beautiful mix of old Scandinavian folk in all its beauty combined with a modern new age choral sound that makes the deep sound of the old Scandi instruments sound even richer. The deep rich sound of Svea or Ramund (seen above), the medieval-sounding ballads Harpens Kraft and Gammelkäring, (a duet between the Strakharpa and Myrkur’s beautiful voice), the Joan Baez tribute House Carpenter, or the angelic piano ballad Vinter they are all beautiful songs celebrating Amalie’s childhood. Folkesange is Myrkur’s tribute to the music of her youth. It is, as stated on her website: – “a journey into the very heart of the Scandinavian culture that marked Amalie’s childhood.” The album is recorded in a contemporary way, but with so much respect for the age and history of this music. In short: a CD that swept us all away, and we hope it will do the same with you!

– Cliff

Editor: Sara Weeda
Picture: Daria Endresen







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