– ‘Hello folk radio DJ‘. With this email,
introduced herself to our station. And with this email she also sent us a pile of music files. A pile that has become bigger and bigger over time, as Iona releases new music on Spotify on a semi-regular basis. Four singles in 2021, three in 2020, a six-song EP in 2019. This lady has been busy. The initial idea was that I would start the story with Iona Fyfe’s first full-length album Away From My Window, released in 2018, and then continue from there. But once I started listening to Away From My Window there was so much I wanted to say about it that I had to decide otherwise. I’ll come back to the 2019 EP Dark Turn Of Mind, the 2015 debut EP The First Sangs, the 2016 EP East and the 2020/2021 singles in other reviews somewhere in the near future. (Which doesn’t mean you can’t listen to those albums and singles beforehand. I highly advise it, actually!!)
What do we know about this talented singer whose albums impressed me so much? If you look Iona up on Wikipedia, the accolades are so numerous that they will be tumbling from your screen: semi-finalist of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2016; finalist of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award in 2017 and 2021; Scots Singer o the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2018; Young Scots Speaker o the Year in 2019 at the inaugural Scots Language Awards, Scots Performer o the Year in 2020, and Scots Speaker o the Year in 2021.
Quite a pile of accolades for someone who just turned 24!
So who is Iona Fyfe? She is a Scottish folk singer-songwriter from Huntly, Aberdeenshire. As a child, she found a love for poems in the Doric dialect (the popular name for the dialect spoken in the mid-northern region of Scotland), a love that she has kept till the present day. Attending singarounds, ceilidhs, and competitions from the age of five, Iona became an accomplished singer with a huge love for the Scottish folk repertoire. It was in those days that she met many revivalist singers such as
who influenced her ballad and bothy ballad style.
(Bothy ballads are songs sung by farm labourers in the northeast region of Scotland. In order to entertain themselves and the other members of the town, the young men of the bothy would hold musical evenings, the bothy nichts, with the music provided by their own impromptu band, the bothy band. A tragic song might be followed by a joke or a story, then a humorous song. Only rarely would a servant girl be present at these events, and musical instruments were also rare according to Wikipedia.)
Iona Fyfe’s love for Scottish traditional music and the Scottish language only grew while she was studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, so it may not come as a surprise that she graduated with a first-class honours degree in Traditional Music and holds an FLCM from London College of Music (a Fellowship of the London College of Music.)
To make her biography even more impressive, Iona Fyfe is also an active voice in the bid to get official recognition of the Scottish language, as well as raising a voice against sexual harassment. She champions equality within the music industry as well as fair pay for music streaming, and she is a member of the Scottish and Northern Irish brand of the musicians union.
You almost wonder how Iona managed to find the time to record any album at all, but she did. In 2015 she released her first EP called The First Sangs. A mini-album filled with 4 lovely folk ballads, partly recorded live. This EP was followed by a second mini-CD called East which was released in 2016. Away From My Window, Iona’s first full-length album, came out in 2018, and what a gem it is
Guise Of Tough is the song that starts this album, which is mostly filled with beautiful ballads. Guise of Tough itself is a more upbeat bothy song. To give you some advice straight away: don’t listen to this as background music! Get your headphones out. There is so much hidden in all these songs, the music is so well arranged and the musicians so good that it would be a shame if you missed something. Of course, Iona’s voice is the main feature of this album, but I want to focus on the instrumentalists first, as they can go unnoticed so easily, yet are so delightfully good. Just notice the notes of the acoustic guitar, the fiddle and the mandolin doing their wee ol’ dance around Iona’s crystal-clear voice. The beauty of the musical arrangement becomes even more apparent in the solo break. Jani Lang on fiddle takes the lead here, but there is so much happening throughout the whole song that it truly feels like a spring day caught in music.
Glenlogie is the first of many ballads that fill up this lovely CD. Again the guitar notes dance with Iona’s beautiful voice. The years of singing in competitions have given Iona an immaculate technique. Her voice has a natural beauty to it. It can be strong and powerful when needed but has an angelic side as well. In a way, Iona’s delicate emotional, yet strong style of singing reminds me ever so slightly of
Back Of The Moon
days. Not that weird, as they also recorded their own version of this traditional song. Both versions are one of a kind, but share a delicate tenderness. Both feel like they are gently caressing your ears. Both are clear favorites of mine.
With the third song Banks Of Inverurie, we leave the feel of spring in the music and enter the summer. Iona sings this a bit lower and I can’t help but notice how much depth her voice has gained since her debut EP. Trust me, her vocal abilities on the debut were already impressive, Iona just got even better over the years. I can’t help but close my eyes, stop typing and listen, drawn in by her song. And with those closed eyes I enjoy the soft repeated chords of the piano, suddenly appearing on the right side of my headphones, even more. (I warned you you should wear those, didn’t I?). As I said earlier, the arrangements on this album are just amazing. I am loving every note I hear. Although most of the songs are ‘old’ traditionals, steeped in history, the music sounds fresh and vibrant. Most likely because Iona gathered a talented group of young folk musicians around her, and you hear their youthful energy sparkle in every note they play.
The Swan Swims is the second more up-tempo singalong on Away From My Window. Again the band places that ‘hidden’ piano in my right ear. I can’t help but get a huge grin on my face every time I hear that. And that grin keeps getting bigger as the song progresses. I love the harmonies, the way the song develops – from a tender ‘duet’ between Tim Edey’s acoustic guitar and Iona’s crystal-clear voice – to a grand singalong. The border pipes kicking in after three minutes are just the icing on this Scottish folk cake.
Title track Away From My Window is the second change in feel. The song is darker, even feels slightly eerie with the ‘haunting’ strokes on the violin and the spoken text starting the song up. The lyrics of Away From My Window are pure poetry, as are most of the lyrics on this album. The words are full of pain and grief, but never say why. Every sad note leaves plenty of room for your own interpretation. Pure poetry in music. A stunning song.
I have to mention the liner notes at this point. One of the first things you will see is a list of sources where all these ballads came from. Something you normally see in a scientific article, but not in a booklet of a CD. It says a lot about the sense of history that Iona has. The love of her Scottish musical heritage and the Scottish language as well. As does the fact that Iona asked for a segment of Lizzie Higgings’ original 1969 recording of Boony Udny to open her interpretation of the song.
Most of the songs on Away From My Window are traditionals. Take Me Out Drinking is the first of the more modern songs. A lovely ballad, originally called When These Shoes Were New, was written and recorded by
in 1980. Iona shows a different side of her music in this song. Although still folk, it leans slightly more towards Americana; a style that fits her just as well as the more traditional folksongs or bothy ballads. Come to think of it. At no point did I even consider comparing her voice to that of another singer. It says a lot about the vocal talent that Iona is.
And So We Must Rest is a beautiful lullaby, written by Aidan Moffat for his young son. It is a warm caress put to music. Its chorus is a lovely duet between Iona and Cameron Nixon, who does all of the backing vocals on this album and I’m loving the synergy between these two here. This lullaby leaves me feeling all happy, open and warm, the perfect way to set me up for the full impact of Banks Of The Tigris.Banks of the Tigris is the only song on this album from Iona’s own hand, but what a strong song it is. This is what Iona herself wrote about it: ‘- Most of the headlines during my teenage years centred around the conflict in Syria and the Middle East… …I wrote this whilst feeling profoundly emotional after reading an article.‘
The contrast between the feeling of safety of And So We Must Rest and the haunting reality of Banks Of The Tigris is poignant. And it works. The message comes across loud and strong. With a hair-raising power equal to classic protest songs like
Goodnight Saigon or
Christina Stürmer’s Mama Ana Ahabak. I applaud you, Iona, for choosing to tell this story as well. I also applaud the arrangements on it:
The Eastern-like strings, drifting in and out of the song in the most eerie, breathtaking way.
The constant ‘dropping of spaces’ in the music with Iona’s voice cutting through, poignant, piercing.
The Middle Eastern male vocals and -instruments sliding in and out, disturbing, beautiful.
The contrast between Iona’s high, crystal-clear vocals and the dark ‘threatening’ drone always there in the background.
And that last eerie note, raising every single hair on my body! Well done Iona and Jani Lang on those arrangements. They are breathtaking!
Banks Of The Tigris could have easily been an impressive ending to this stunning CD, but Iona decided otherwise. It feels like she wanted to leave us with a cheerful note, not a sad one, so we get one last song as an encore.
So Pit Gair ends this album as it started. With a lovely up-tempo dance song. A cheerful end to a stunning album. Everybody that has a warm heart for folk music needs to have this CD. There are no ifs or buts about it. This is a must-have CD. And I’m so looking forward to introducing more of this talented lady’s music in the near future. But for now, enjoy Away From My Window. It is well worth it!
Cover art: Louise Bichan
pictures: Elly Lucas
Ivy leaves – Year One (2021) review
A couple of months ago I saw a post by
on her Facebook page. In that post, she mentioned a gift from Germany: a CD had arrived with a personal letter attached to it. She continued by saying:
-‘Of course, I started listening and was immediately taken into a majestic forest. It was so clear that her creation came from a very magical place. This gifted goddess, nature lover, teacher, and dreamer is called Angelika Abend. She took an insanely brave step to release her own work straight from her soul!’
Needless to say I was instantly intrigued and looked up this artist myself on Spotify. And just as Jyoti I was touched, even though I was listening to the album on a crappy mobile phone speaker while at work. So that evening I contacted Angelika Abend aka Ivy Leaves and within days a small package arrived. In it was Year One, the debut album of Angelika, with it a personal letter attached:
-I hope the music will bring you relaxation, thoughtful moments. energetic vibes and natural satisfaction. Every song comes from the heart. Best wishes and green pagan vibes. Angelika Abend/Ivy Leaves.’
Well, dear Angelika, it did! This is exactly what Year One is: A meditative, sincere and ‘happy’ instrumental pagan folk CD. Straight from Angelika’s heart.
So who is
? Well, on her Facebook page she describes herself as a nature lover, musician, teacher, and dreamer. Going through her posts I discovered she is indeed a school teacher and a nature-loving pagan as well. Inspired by artists like
she started writing music on harp, several types of flutes, hammered dulcimer, piano and harmonium.
Angelika Abend: -‘ In January 2020 that creativity was given a huge boost when I started working with
as a producer. He did the recording, mixing and mastering of the final album. Year One was recorded in July 2020 in a cozy wooden recording studio. It was followed by several listening sessions in October.’
And then on the 18th of May 2021 Year One was officially released. As a ‘musical interpretation of the repetitive cycle of life. With all its brightness and all its darkness.’ The album
Listening to the first song Stone Cold a couple of words pop up: ‘majestic, calming, happy, positive and serene’. I think those words quite nicely sum up Angelika’s music in general. As Angelika herself told on different occasions that she was influenced by bands like OMNIA and Waldkauz, and the music itself is indeed flute and harp oriented pagan folk you could think this album to be a cross-over of those two bands. But no it is not. Year One has a very own unique sound. It actually leans more towards the orchestral sound of Alvenrad, the first album of
but with a refreshing native American flute feel over it. Angelika used a whole range of traditional flutes while recording Year One, including one of my favourite wind instruments: a fujara (Angelika: -‘To be precise a hybrid overtone bass fujara’). She also uses an overtone flute in A, reedpipe, wooden whistles, a raven spirit flute and a Kiowa love flute to create that feel. Don’t expect the fast soloistic way of playing we know from OMNIA’s Steve Sic. No, she uses the flutes as calm, soothing voices. Think of a pagan folk version of
(A famous Native American flute artist from Lakota/Irish decent, well known as the guest singer and soloist on Creek Mary’s Blood by
That calming, meditative effect is enhanced by the use the hammered dulcimer and the harp as accompanying instruments.
The third layer of Ivy Leaves music, the ambient part, partly comes from the clever recording Adrian Magler did. He gives Ivy Leaves a sound that comes really close to a band like Sacred Spirit. I especially noticed this, in the percussion. So much so that I initially thought it was programmed, but Angelika assured me that most of them are real percussion instruments, so my compliments to Adrian, as the sound really works. It gives the music of Angelika its heartbeat, its pulse. In the second song, Sleepy Lake, we hear that pulse for the first time. It is still a lovely gentle instrumental ballad, hovering somewhere between ambient pagan folk and new age music. But songs like: Satyr Endeavour, Haily Rain or Waiting For You To Decide all have a really nice build-up from gentle ballads to upbeat ambient dance songs. Satyr Endeavour for instance is quite a catchy song, with a cool dark base melody supporting it. Haily Rain is another really catchy song, in this case, led by the harp. Another favourite of mine is the song Waiting For You To Decide. Starting off as a beautiful fragile ‘ballet’ between harp and flute, it gradually evolves into a full-on dance ballad. One of my highlights on this album.
Music, flowing with the season
I also need to compliment Angelika on the sequence of songs. The clever bit is that at this point of the album the colour and atmosphere of the music changes.
Combining an acoustic guitar with the harp already gives the intro of Festival Song a different flavour, but it is halfway through the song that a surprising appearance of didgeridoo and percussion and an increase in tempo really pushes the music into a cool pagan folk dance direction. It sounds as if Mich Rozek and Luka Aubri were invited in the studio for a small jam session. The lighter feel from the start of this album returns one more time with the song Always Keep That Feeling, (Angelika’s homage to OMNIA’s Steve and Jenny), but from that moment on the feel of Year One returns to being a bit darker, a bit more autumny so to say. A deliberate choice as Angelika explained to me after she first read the review:
-‘The sequence of songs is also designed to be coherent with the months and seasons of the year. Stone Cold represents January, Sleepy Lake is February and so on. My approach was to not only capture the moods of the different natural states but also combine them with emotional situations and a holistic personal story. All this within the course of one year, represented by the 12 songs.’Apocalooper Flute reminds me a bit of
music, most likely because of the cool didge vibe and the low hoarse sound of the bass overtone flute dancing over it. It is that change in feel, that change in colour of the music that makes Year One such a catchy album from beginning to end.
In the last three songs: Falling leaves, Where Do We Go When It’s Dark Outside and Rebirth, you can hear the influence Jyoti Verhoeff has had on Angelika’s music. It is now much more piano orientated and the general feel is way more in the direction of Jyoti’s last album The Sky Of You or the OMNIA songs Wheel Of Time and Sing For Love.
Stories of personal development
Now that I mention this ‘darker edge’, I found an interesting contradiction between Angelika’s music and the explanations in the booklet accompanying the CD. Normally I tend to hear the things artists write about in the songs themselves. With Angelika, most of the time I don’t. The texts in the booklet are deep, dark, slightly gothic even in feel. Yet I can only describe her music as positive and happy. I think that comes from who Angelika is. although I don’t know her personally. Reading her posts on Facebook and seeing the pictures she uploaded, she seems a happy, positive person. A dreamer maybe, a thinker as well, but in her heart positive and good. And you hear that back in her music. I know the project is called Ivy Leaves, but it is so clearly Angelika’s heart and soul that went into all of it, that I find it really hard not to name her as the artist all the time.
Angelika: ‘-If you look at the texts as a whole you might find that they represent a story of personal development and becoming. A deep fall is followed by the strive to get back up again, live life, find the right path, fight the struggle and in the end, find inner peace within oneself.’
All in all, I’m loving Year One. It is a charming debut, with an artist clearly finding her own voice within the pagan folk genre. Lovely Ambient pagan folk with a good dose of Native American new age spirituality. Congratulations on this lovely debut Angelika. What a way to start the new year!
Album cover: Angelika Abend, Adrian Magler
Pictures: Angelika Abend
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
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
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!
album Cover: Tineke Lemmens
pictures: Wouter en de Draak
Waldkauz – Labyrinth (2021) review
When I think of
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
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
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
)- who also worked with
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
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
-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
-like ballad He Missed The Stars we get Bayushki Bayu which with its medieval-sounding, waltz-like theme kinda reminds me of
. 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
), 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
in the Waldkauz studio, and last but not least it features
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
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!
cover illustration: Joan Llopis Doménech
Album Design:Benjamin Urban (HYGIN GRAPHIX)
Picture: Samantha Evans: Balm and Bitterness
Jyoti Verhoeff – The Sky of You (2021) review
At CeltCast HQ we have two guilty pleasures. One of them of course is
the other one is an equally talented performer:
Ever since her debut EP Phoenix (2012), her unique style of singer-songwriter lyrics on a piano-laden mix of dream folk, avant-garde/artpop, and chamber music-ish dreamscapes has filled our office on a regular basis. Although it’s not really folk music if we’re being honest, Jyoti creates a musical world that fits so snugly with the spiritual, meditative, nature-loving and classical (hello
) side of pagan folk, that we gladly turn a blind eye and review her newest CD regardless. Speaking for myself I’m really happy we made that decision. This is a stunning album and with station favorites like Meidi Goh (
Philip Xander Steenbergen
and Kalin Yordanov
among the guest musicians, it would have been a shame to miss out on this wonderful piece of art. Because that is what you need to call this CD: A beautiful piece of art!
Jyoti Verhoeff made her debut as a piano-playing singer/songwriter with the EP Phoenix in 2012. She recorded five songs with cello player
who we know from many guest appearances with Cesair and
From this first EP, Jyoti defined her musical style. An exquisite mix of intricate piano chords and vocals, weaving from soundscapes, through avant-garde dream pop, contemporary chamber music into soft and poetic dream folk making me think of the Dutch band
Rosemary & Garlic.
Also clear from that first EP was Jyoti’s connection with the natural world, as if Mother Earth herself whispered her favorite melodies into Jyoti’s ears.
Her first full album Riven: Dark Moon Full Moon (2014) is an absolute masterpiece that brought together three giants of contemporary artpop: Jyoti and Maya Fridman of course, and….third but definitely not least…
Fieke van der Hurk.
The 4-part music piece Dark Moon ending this CD is absolutely beautiful. It combines the power of artpop, the grandeur of epic folk (Cesair), with elements of Nordic folk, classical music, and ambient music.
On “Touches” – I speak with my mouth shut (2018) the collaboration with Fieke continued. Jyoti even deepened her musical connection with Mother Earth on this CD, contrasting it with the ever-stronger automated and industrialized human civilization. A message that was so powerful it didn’t need words anymore. The music itself became the voice telling the message Jyoti wanted to express. A message filled with questions. Is this the way we need to go? Is this the right future for us to go to? For the world to end in?
Now we have The Sky of You. Soundwise it sits snugly between the albums Riven and Touches. In theme, it is a logical follow-up on the latter CD. Where Jyoti was raising questions on “Touches” – I speak with my mouth shut; where she was confronting us with the contrasts between our inner emotional being and the material outer shell we created to protect that, The Sky of You is created to be a safe haven. A shelter for those who don’t belong in this ever-rushing, digitalized, dare I say clinical computer world. That musical shelter instantly emerges when you turn on the opening song Vision. Soft clouds of meditative cello, electronic keyboard notes, and grand tape loop effects are woven together in a comforting ambient folk setting. Jyoti’s piano strokes bring structure within those misty clouds. Intricate, delicate, soothing. Her vocals bringing an eerie beauty to it all. A bass clarinet cuts through it all like a shadow would claw through the mist. It all sounds spiritual, ghostly, warm, comforting, and slightly eerie at the same time. But not scary, no-no. It is beautifully soothing in a mysterious way. As the song progresses it builds up in strength. First, it is done with an improvised percussion segment, and then by masterfully arranging it like the soundtrack of an epic fantasy movie would. almost up to a full symphony. Only to fall back to a single piano note. A delicate melody line born from silence. every note has a sense of silence hidden in itself, even while it is played. All of this makes Vision an intriguing start to this CD.
As Daylight Wanes begins as another soundscape. Actually, on every single song, Jyoti creates that mystique ambient folk ‘cloud’. She uses it to set the stage. They are portals leading us towards the deepest, most stunning corners of her creative mind. Just as stars are born within the swirling and turning of a nebula, Jyoti’s songs are born within that ambient mist. Shards of piano cut through the mist and mark out the tone the music piece will have.
As I said As Daylight Wanes starts small, as an ambient folk cloud, but slowly builds up. Electronic keyboard sounds coming in halfway through the song give me fond memories of the beauty I found on Touches. It is funny how listening to this new album also makes me understand the previous albums better. It seems that certain elements hidden inside these previous songs, I could only open with keys Jyoti is giving me on this new album.
The third song Come is one of my favorites. It has this lovely ambient, dream folk feel again with beautiful shards of piano, cello, clarinet, and tape loop effects cutting through this nebula of sound
Can you envision yourself walking through a forest in the early morning on a lovely but cold October day, with the sky above a deep blue still studded with stars, and the morning haze slowly growing into a fog, gently encasing all the shapes and softening them to beautiful abstract figures? Can you imagine, hidden in that misty haze, that you find the golden glow of autumn water flowing by; the green shadow of mosses on ancient trees; the wet pearls of the morning fog caught in the spiderweb’s threats; the golden voice of the robin’s song. Just before you spot him diving away from the lowest branch? Thát is what Come sounds like. A song blessed by Mother Earth herself. At this point, I should mention
whose tape loops and effects have an immensely important part in creating that overall sound.
He does that again on the fourth song, The Sky of You. Working in close harmony with cello player
The Wong Janice
to create those stunning soundscapes over and over again. This is one of the few songs where Jyoti actually sings words and there is a sense of lyrics. But even here it isn’t about words. Her voice is just another instrument adding even more emotion to the overall artpop sound. I LOVE this song. Readers who love the latest albums of
will, just like me, get goosebumps when they hear The Sky of You, the title song of this album. It is a stunning piece of music. Truly stunning!
If you read the biography of The Wong Janice you’ll see that she describes herself as a deep ambient meditative cello player. And that describes her role in the songs Solace and Build Me A Sea exactly. It perfectly describes the songs themselves as well. Especially the latter one, Build Me A Sea, is a gem. It starts out as a dreamscape with an ever-so-slight African feel. (But that could be a personal thing. It is because the sound of Jyoti’s voice reminds me very much of
song Across The River, from his
Secret World Live CD,
which contains a beautiful African violin solo.) After that, Build Me A Sea hovers between beautiful Asian meditative music, shards of Kate Bush, and that haunting violin sound of Peter Gabriel’s Across The River, but then created by Erwin’s loops and Jyoti’s voice. My personal favorite song of the whole album.
The last song I’m going to mention is Ogulena. It brings together two other giants of contemporary folk music, Jyoti and Kalin Yordanov. It is stunning how these two voices, these two styles merge together into something even more magical. Alex Sealgare, I think we need to indulge our guilty pleasure and bring those two giants together in concert one day. Jyoti Verhoeff and Irfan together on the stage of the
Now THAT, dear readers, would be a night to remember.
Until that moment I’ll just cherish this CD. Thank you, Jyoti, this album is truly beautiful. An honor to review.
album cover design:
Sander van der Berg,
Pictures: Mirthe Beerling (1), Jyoti Verhoeff (2)