Shantalla – From The East Unto The West (2019) review



This winter my girlfriend knitted me a new sweater. Beforehand I feared it would be itchy and scratchy, but no, the minute I put it on it just felt comfy and warm, nothing pulled or tugged, it was as if I’d had this sweater for years and years. It just felt snug and safe. It instantly became my favourite comfy sweater.
Well that’s exactly how the new Shantalla album made me feel. Within the first 3 songs the music felt like that new sweater that Anna gave me. Nice, comfy and warm. And around The Cameronian Set, track 8 on the album, I wrote another small line in my notebook: ‘this music feels like coming home’.
It really does. It is this happy feeling that always goes with Irish folk, the variety of song choice, the quality of the music, the lovely ironic humour in the liner notes, everything fits on this album. So much so that after two listens I already wanted to start writing this introduction. So here it is. Shantalla’s ‘From The East Unto The West’. But first, let’s do a proper introduction of the band.
INTRODUCING SHANTALLA

Do I really need to introduce Shantalla? Ever since their first gig in 1997 and the release of their debut album Shantalla, way back in 1998, the Irishmen Kieran Fahy (fiddle, viola), Joe Hennon (guitar, vocals), Michael Horgan (uilleann pipes, flute, whistles) and Gerry Murray (accordion, whistles, bouzouki, piano) and Scottish Helen Flaherty (vocals, bodhrán, shakers) steadily made a name for themselves, growing out to be a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Irish folk scene, but also in the balfolk and the fantasy festival world. Their second album Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings followed in 2001, and again got a good reception in the folk world.
In 2005, the band took a temporary break, focussing on other projects. Among them The Helen Flaherty Band, Hot Spoons and Omnia. In 2009 the band reformed, adding bouzouki and guitar player Simon Donnelly -yes also Irish- to the line-up. In this formation work began on their 3rd album Turas, which was released in 2011. Again the reactions were really positive.

After a period of touring it became somewhat quiet around Shantalla, until the good news came out earlier this year that the band was back in the studio. The fruits of their labour, the 4th CD From the East Unto The West is going to be released in the coming weeks. The presale is running as I write these words. From The East Unto The west is recorded by Philip Masure over at Folk Studios and Pascale Snoeck at Elle Studios.
-Comment from Shantalla: “Now that you mentioned Pascale, she has been our live sound engineer for over 21 years, it would be nice to thank her for that!-
To finish of the credits, From The East Unto The West was mixed by Philip Masure and the artwork was done by Robin Dekker. Now the big question is: “Was From The East Unto The West worth the wait?” The answer: a resounding “yes!”

THE ALBUM: FROM THE EAST UNTO THE WEST

The first song, Captain Ward, sets the mood. Within seconds you know what to expect from this album. Good quality, Irish folk, traditional, but with a Shantalla twist, and cheerful, oh-so-cheerful. It’s the accordion flute and rhythm guitar that get the folk party going. After this typical folk intro Captain Ward eases into a mid-tempo ballad from the 17th century about a pirate captain capturing a ship sent by the king of England to catch him. Of course Captain Ward has to brag about it and he wrote a letter to the king of England stating that His Majesty might be the king on land, but he, Captain Ward, is the king at sea.
This traditional ballad flows easily into the second part of the song called Paddy Goes East written by Gerry Murray. And yes the sound of the lead melody, together with the slightly different rhythm, does make the second part of Captain Ward sound as if good old Paddy had taken his accordion and fiddle on a wee tour of Eastern Europe.

The mood then switches for the first time, in the intro of the second song. An accordion solo reminding me a bit of Wouter en de Draak and their more French approach to folk music. The tone even gets a bit dark, when the rhythm guitar and violin creep in, made even stronger by the sound of crows in the background. The stage is set for a dark slow song, so it should not have surprised me that Helen Flaherty starts to sing Twa Corbies, but I really didn’t recognise it from the intro.
The track notes accompanying this song are also really cool:
-“The Twa Corbies is a cynical Scottish parody of a 17th century English song The Three Ravens. In this dark version, the corbies (crows) say that the dead knight’s hawk and hound have forsaken him and are off chasing game, while his lover has already moved on to another knight.  Since no-one knows or cares where his body lies, the corbies talk in detail about the meal they will make of him, plucking out his eyes and using his hair for their nest. That’s recycling folks!” What was that about the Scots being cynical!?

The third album track, Ynis Avalach will take some doing from the balfolk dancers, I’m sure of it! It starts with a tricot, named as such in Brittany because it knits an andro and a hanterdro together. Then the music turns into a slip jig called Dever The Dancer, before it ends in two classic reels called Toss The Feathers #1 and Toss The Feathers # 2. Good luck dancing to that guys! The good news is that Ynis Avalach is a really nice medley of songs. The first part Ynis Avalach, is a song Shantalla know from Faun. You can see them perform it on Castlefest together with Fiona in the video below.
the album version again has that slight French Wouter en de Draak feel to it before the flute adds a lovely Irish flavour. That French feel is mostly there because of Joe Hennon’s subtle guitar work. I’ve been a fan of the way he plays for years. Actually from the moment I heard the live version of the Sidhenearlahi Set on Omnia’s Pagan Folk album. Yes he is mostly a rhythm guitarist, but he puts all kinds of nice twists and turns in his playing. Squeezing in all kinds of variations on the theme he plays and I just love that.

STRONG INSTRUMENTALISTS

But he’s not the only one shining in this song, so do all the instrumentalists. In the video Shantalla uploaded on their website to introduce From the East Unto The West, Joe mentions it himself, that thát is one of the strengths of the band, the many lead instruments they can use. And he has a point. let’s take this song for instance. So in keeping with folk tradition it starts with a nice guitar rhythm and then the violin slides in. I just love how Kieran Fahy constantly does that. So subtle. But anyway, with the flute joining in, you think that this is it. A flute/violin duet. But no. It’s flute with another flute doing the second ‘voice’ while the violin keeps sliding in and out for added flavour. Michael’s uilleann pipes follow in the flow with Simon’s guitar now picking up the melody as well, then the accordion joins in, making the sound even fuller and richer.
In the second part Dever The Dancer, the violin takes centre stage, joined by the flute for a lovely cheerful slip jig, but again a low whistle, guitar and accordion step in and create a strong rich sound. The uilleann pipes lead us into the last part of Ynis Avalach, followed by some lovely bodhrán /guitar rhythms, before the whole band joins in to finish it all. I love instrumental folk if it is done like this. Such a rich and strong sound, so much variety. This just has to put a smile on everyone’s face.


here is Shantalla performing Ynis Avalanch together with Fiona at Castlefest 2014

On to the next song! Lead vocalist Helen Flaherty’s voice fits perfectly in Shantalla’s sound. She has a warm, strong voice full with emotion that she uses to her full advantage in the first ballad of the album, A Band Of Gold. A lovey story about a romance that was not to be….
I have to say, Helen shines on this. She is such a beautiful singer. Powerful, in full control of her voice, she sings this ballad with so much emotion, you can feel every ounce of despair, regret and loneliness in it. Pure beauty.



Shantalla are masters in contrast. After the intense loneliness of A Band Of Gold they could not have produced a greater contrast than by putting Magic Happens after it. The tin whistle intro cuts right through the intensity left by A Band Of Gold. Lovely, just lovely. The first part is a jig, again written by Gerry Murray. This jig is in the good old folk tradition, using just guitar and tin whistle, (ok, doubled tin whistle to make the sound richer.) The fiddle and accordion then take over and play us a composition of Joe Liddy, The Three Wishes. As the set finishes with Charlie Lennon’s Morning Sunday, with the uilleann pipes and accordion taking the lead, my notebook says; ‘an upbeat version of Cara‘ . And I’m almost surprised the band kept the instrumentation so ‘simple’, but that is one of the strengths of this band, knowing what to add or not add, and when to do that.

ADDING ANOTHER MUSICAL STYLE

From this instrumental balfolk song we move on to The War Of The Crofters and a totally different musical genre. This song is originally written by the Scottish singer-songwriter Brian McNeill. It is because of that diversity in not only songs, but also genres that I really enjoy From The East Unto The West. The album combines old traditionals, instrumental balfolk tunes and some singer-songwriter pieces. All three types of songs have their own style and feel. And it is the combination of those styles, tied together by Shantalla’s craftmanship that make From The East Unto The West such a joy to listen to. I also have to mention Helen again. On this song you clearly hear her Scottish tongue. Now if a Scottish person talks, I always feel they are already singing. It is in the way they pronounce the words. There is just so much melody in the Scottish accent. To hear that melody back while singing, it is just a joy for the ears.

next up is Farewell To Charlemagne, the second song that has you stop in your tracks. It is a touching low whistle solo composed and played by Michael Horgan.. A touching, personal song about…. no, I shall not tell thee, in this case you have to look yourself into the track notes so the band themselves can tell you what it is about.

Track eight, The Cameronian Highlander is a well-known barn dance as specified in the track notes and it is indeed a mid-tempo dance tune played on accordion and flute. With a wee bit of imagination you can hear the clogs stamp on the wooden barn floor. But then the tempo speeds up considerably and the barn dance whirls into three reels, The Killavil Reel, The Bag of Spuds and The Carracastle Lass. All lovely uptempo folk tunes to cheer your heart and lift your feet. Irish folk music isn’t the most complicated style in the world, but played by gifted musicians, the instruments themselves start dancing, as if the notes themselves swirled around each other in variation after variation. Luckily Shantalla has such gifted musicians. So The Cameronian Highlander, again, is a joy to listen too.

THANK HEAVENS THEY INVENTED THE REPEAT BUTTON

Jamie Raeburn then shows the other side of folk music. Quite often they tell touching stories full of longing for a love once lost, grieving about a home now lost or telling about the hardship of life. Jamie Raeburn and the next song, Midlothian Mining Song, are no exception. And, as I already said Helen has the perfect voice to tell you those stories. You feel them when she sings. The delicate touch of Simon’s guitar compliments her voice perfectly. Just listen to this beautiful combination in Jamie Raeburn. The icing on the cake then comes from the touches of fiddle and viola and the subtle low whistle solo in Jamie Raeburn, or the lovely accordion, viola and flute melodies on Midlothian Mining Song.

Talking about lovely rhythm guitar, the first part of the last song on this album, Breaking Wind, has plenty of those. But it’s the touches of fiddle that make this song into something truly stunning. Almost classical in style, the fiddle sound gently slides into the music. It’s our last goosebump moment before Shantalla goes full out in this balfolk grand finale. A worthy end to this must have album, that finishes way too fast. Thank heavens they invented the repeat button. You’ll need it, you’ll need it a lot!

Cliff

Editor: The ever so lovely Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve design: Robin Dekker
Studio Pictures: Shantalla
Live pictures: Kees Stravers

Wouter en de Draak – Wouter en de Draak (2018) review



Dear reader,
it is kind of costumary that we start a review with an nice intro. Something funny or of interest. I could, for example, ponder a bit over why the band is called Wouter en de Draak (dragon). Is it a nice play on words on the story of George and the dragon? (In Dutch the story is actually called Joris en de draak, and the bandmembers are called Wouter and -indeed- Joris ). Or did Joris do something odd to get this nickname? A million ideas come up.
I could also mention some of the song titles. Now I know that folk people have this tradition to give their instrumental songs odd names, but Dieseldrone, Tosti, or Vliegende Graafmachine (Flying excavator)?? Those surely are amongst the strangest I’ve seen in a long time. Another option is to make a more serious remark, for instance how fitting it is that I write this review right after Aérokorda‘s Hush The Wolves.Hush The Wolf being the CD you would play at the height of a party, when everyone is swirling and dancing, and how Wouter en de Draak -the album- is the perfect follow-up. The music that you would play when the night is coming to its end, but nobody wants to leave. The moment you pop open the first bottle of wine, as a friend starts some deep conversation that you know will take you deep into the morning. I could write about all that. But forget about it! This time I’m skipping the intro! There is so much I want to tell about this album, that I’m just gonna leave the whole intro thing be and get right to the music.


Wouter en de Draak are Wouter Kuyper (diatonic accordion, recorder, on the right) and his dragon companion Joris Alblas (acoustic guitar, left side). They invited Isaac Muller (Irish flute, second from right), Frank van Vliet (Flugelhorn, trumpet) and Roeland Uijtdewilligen (percussion, second from left) to join them as guest soloists on some songs. Together they made quite an interesting instrumental balfolk CD, that includes 3 waltzes, 2 Scottish , a hanter dro (a dance from Bretagne), a cercle, 2 mazurkas, a jig, a bourree and a gavotte. In their bio Wouter and Joris describe their music as: [quote] ‘Balfolk with a bigger roll for the guitar, a touch of Irish folk and a big love for the music from Bretagne.’ Well I can safely say this is true. As I was watching them play on this years Elfia Haarzuilen I was instantly transported to France, even as hailstorms that were constantly coming over and dropping their loads. The rain and the cold didn’t stop the Balfolkers to dance upon W.e.d.D.’s tunes. That in itself says enough. On CD the music gets an extra dimension, a deeper layer, you can hear the care and the intensity they put into the recording. It are not ‘just’ balfolk tunes they play, no it are instrumental chansons. That is what makes Wouter en de Draak -the album- so good. But i’m getting way ahead of myself again.

As I was listening to the first notes of Vliegende Graafmachine, it just happened, that I was sitting in the metro with the morning sun on my face and a clear blue sky above me. Now I don’t know if it was the warmth of the sun or the melancholic sound of Wouter’s accordion, but the music took me right back to a summer camp about 30 years ago, when we were backpacking in an area just south of Paris. Back to a night we slept under the open sky, just as clear as today, somewhere alongside the Seine. Some of us were brave enough to sleep on the grass, some of us under a bridge -just in case it would rain- but all of us too lazy to pitch our tents.
I don’t know if it’s the lovely acoustic guitar intro, the slightly melancholic sound of the accordion or the laidback feel of the song, but I can’t help drifting off to that wonderful time we had in La France. But in any case, Vliegende Graafmachine (flying excavator !?) is a lovely introduction to Wouter en de Draak’s first album.

Hanterko (a hanter dro from Bretagne) has a French feel to it as well, this time with clear Celtic influences. Especially when Irish flute player and guest musician Isaac Muller shares the lead melody with Wouter Kuyper. But it’s not a clearcut whizzing and swirling Irish folk song. Again the musicians take a more laidback approach. Wouter en de Draak build their songs up slowly, taking their time to let the melody flow. They really understand the power of a small pause, a moment of silence within the music. All of this makes Hanterko a beautiful ballad.

The next song, the cheerful slightly jumpy Scottish Werkelijk Waar?! (Really?!) keeps me in a reminiscent mood and takes me back to another childhood memory. When I was a kid, a barrel organ pulled by horse, would come through our street on its way to the market. I would always rush to the window to listen to it. The way Wouter plays his accordion at the start of Werkelijk Waar ?! takes me back to the sound of that barrel organ, and when the percussion starts to sound like horse hooves the memory is complete. The cool flute solo from Wouter suddenly gives my memories a weird twist. As if Peter Pan himself is flying through my memories. At a certain point Werkelijk Waar !? becomes a wee bit jazzy and that’s the point where I really drift off towards a good place. Werkelijk waar!



I keep being in this chill state of mind during Davy’s Waltz.Yes it’s a waltz, but more than that it is a beautiful piece of calm acoustic guitar music accompanied by accordion. A singer-songwriter type song but without a singer. The music of Wouter en de Draak doesn’t need a voice anyway. The part of the voice is shared by all the instruments. Sometimes it’s the delicate touch of the guitar, sometimes it’s a beautiful solo from the accordion and sometimes it’s one of the guest soloist that tell the tale. It’s this variety that makes this album such a pleasure to listen to. The diversity, not only in instruments, but also in dances, in tempo, in the way the music is arranged. From small and subtle to grand and powerful. Those contrasts are what makes this CD so interesting to listen to.

The fifth song, New Horizon, New Adventures is a Cercle that gives us that positive, cheerful French/Irish connection again. It’s the interplay between the accordion and the Irish flute that catches my ear in the beginning, but the best part of the song starts halfway through when, one after another, all the soloists get their moment to shine. A lovely song that keeps growing on you the more you hear it.

The mazurka Zon Op De Glijbaan (Sun on the slide) is a gentle accordion piece accompanied by guitar. Lovely and calm. Again it’s Isaac’s flute that becomes the icing on the cake. It’s almost a shame that Zon Op De Glijbaan is the last song he is a guest on.
But not to worry, on Ballon/Tosti (yes you did read balloon/ tosti) we get introduced to a new guest soloist, Frank van Vliet on trumpet. The song starts with a fast guitar chord that takes me straight to Spain. But when Wouter joins in on is accordion I am drifting even further away, over the big ocean towards Argentina and its famous tango music. Tango music is all about passion and drama off course, something you won’t find in that way in this scottish. But a tango is also about love and melancholy, it is a story put to music, and in Ballon/Tosti Wouter En De Draak do the same. It’s the combination of classical guitar, played in that typical Spanish style, and the accordion often used in Argentine tangos that does it for me, in my mind Ballon/tosti becomes a Scottish with the sound and the feel of a tango. When Frank finally joins in with his delicate trumpetsolo, I am truly convinced this song was recorded during a Argentine summer fiesta.

Now that I have this tango comparison in my head it’s really hard to get it out again. He’pter is a ballad and a waltz, so realistically as far away from a Argentine tango as possible , yet that melancholic accordion sound and the Spanish sounding acoustic guitar are so characteristic that my mind keeps coming back to the same conclusion.



Witte Tony/Witte Danny is cheerful song. A nice jig that just flows into the ears. Nothing more, nothing less.There is a bit more to tell about Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois. It starts Spanish again, with a nice guitar solo from Joris, accompanied by Wouter on his accordion. Roeland Uijtdewilligen’s percussion gives the music that latin feel, and when Frank van Vliet joins in with his trumpet we are ready for a lovely Latin American musical mix. Fast Spanish guitar lines, some delicate Mexican trumpet and the French accordion. This is Folk music, but from a totally different part of the world then we normally hear on CeltCast. The cool thing is that the guest musicians are not just there to add some musical flavour. No, they are allowed to share the spotlight, to help enrich the wonderful music Wouter and Joris have written. I also really admire the way the album builds up, and by that I mean the order that the songs are put in. Most of the times bands put their fastest, best songs in the beginning, slowing down towards the end. Not Wouter en de Draak. They do it the other way around. They start delicate and now, almost at the end of the CD, with Dieseldrone/Menage A Trois you hear their most energetic, powerful song. Not a bad choice, not bad at all.

With Monsieur 7 we go full circle. This delicate accordion solo takes me back to France again. Back to Paris. And back to my imagination. In the late evening sun an old Frenchman is sitting on une terrasse, in front of an old cafe in a quartier close to the famous Montmartre. The cafe sits in one of those small alleys you only find if you go wander around way off the beaten path. Our Frenchman, let’s call him Pierre, is playing his accordion. The knobs shining golden in the fading sun. We stop and have a listen. You can hear his life through the tender beautiful sound of his accordion. It was a good life, full of joy and love. You can hear it. You can feel it as you listen. Your heart warms to the nostalgic sound of the music and the taste of a dark red wine you are offered. You know this is a perfect end to a lovely day. As it is a perfect ending to this lovely CD. With the last fading note the story is told.

The last song? I’m pretty sure the band will stare at that line with a bit of amazement, pointing out a small, but not insignificant detail to me: ‘You do realise that there are twelve (!) songs on this album Cliff, not eleven????’ Yes Wouter and Joris, I do. But with Monsieur 7 you two have recorded such a perfect end to this beautiful CD in my ears, that I have started considering Gavotte De Grenoble as a bonus track. Even if it isn’t really true. *) And very nice bonus track if I may add. Again it has this contradiction in it, as it is a slow song, a touching French chanson, danced as a gavotte. And still I have that tango feel again, that hidden passion, that melancholic story underneath. Something that just runs through this whole album.

With this last song I finally figured it out! Wouter En De Draak play Argentine ballads. And they are seriously good at it. 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 a enjoyable moment. Well done, gentlemen and thank you. Merci beaucoup. Merci pour la très, très belle musique. And now if you will excuse me, I’ll be off, play the CD again and have another glass of wine with Monsieur Pierre.

Cliff

Editor: Diane

Sleeve art : Tineke Lemmens

Pictures taken at Elfia Haarzuilen by Cliff de Booy

*) In his reaction to the review Wouter told me it ís true. Gavotte De Grenoble was indeed ment as a bonustrack.

Aérokorda – Hush The Wolves (2017)



Joie de vivre! That was the first thing that came to mind as I was listening to Hush The Wolves, the debut album of the Belgian instrumental folk trio Aérokorda. The second thing that came to mind? How incredibly fitting this music is to this time of the year. Now that the spring equinox is past us, the first flowers are showing their colours, and my winter clothes are pushed away deep in the back of the closet for yet another year, I was longing for some cheerful, positive music.
And Aérokorda’s music fits right in. It’s the musical explosion of spring colours, the celebrational music of Ostara and -here it comes again- the soundtrack of joie de vivre! This is music filled with energy, it is music that keeps on giving. I can easily see Aérokorda playing the village stage on Castlefest and the whole balfolk community in front of it, swirling and curling on a warm summer afternoon. The field filled with bright coloured dresses, all of them spinning and turning, as the dancers stir up clouds of dust, celebrating life in a kaleidoscope of light.
OK let’s introduce the band shortly, Aérokorda is the project of Davy Cautaerts (middle in the picture), Adriaan van Wonterghem (right side) both Belgian, and halve Belgian halve Bulgarian Violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (left). Adriaan is a classic trained guitarist who created his own almost romantic style of guitar playing that he not only shows in Aérokorda, but also since 2001 in the Belgian folk band Boreas.
Violinist Pavel is also classically trained, and listeners could already know him from the Belgian duo Les Bottines Artistique. A duo he formed with chromatic accordion player Guus Herremans. The duo released their first album Summertime in june 2017.
Davy Cautaerts is Aéorokorda’s Irish Whistle and octave mandolin player. He specialised in Celtic music for several years now, he also plays in the folkcore band Ithilien. Ithilien describe themselves as a mix between traditional Belgian folk music and modern metal music like deathmetal and metalcore. A cool band judging by the video’s on their site, that the fans of the harder tpes of metal will most likely appriciate.
As a trio Adrian, Pavel and Davy also play in the bands Sanseveria and the new band Makaram, a septet that brings together world music with a folk rock feel. But this review we focus on their balfolkband Aerokorda. As Aerokorda they play: ‘Folk music with influences from the Irish and the Balkan cultures completed with our own touch and ideas.’as they say so nicely on their own facebook page. And Hush The Wolves is their first album, which came out in june 2017.

Listening to Hush The Wolves you can safely say you get what it says on the package. The first song FYC starts with a strong Spanish classical guitar chord, followed by a nice flute intro by Davy Cautaerts (left). Then the song itself kicks in. It is, as all the songs on Hush The Wolves a own composition , mixing a lovely traditional sounding Celtic folk melody with Eastern European violin influences. During FYC the violinist Pavel Souvandjiev (right) and Davy divide the lead melodies amongst each other, with guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem (middle) keeping up the tempo with his passionate Spanish guitar chords. An impressive start to Hush The Wolves, that made me instantly eager to hear more of this album. Hoping I would find more gems on it.
Well, I can assure you, it does not disappoint. The next song I pick up on is the third track , Ontdooi -Dutch for defrost-. On this song Aérokorda take back the pace for the first time. Guitarist Adriaan van Wotherghem starts with a lovely, almost breakable melody line that is the backbone of this song. Over this, Pavel, who wrote Ontdooi, lays down the loveliest of violin melodies. It’s not so much a solo, no, he uses his violin as a voice to tell a beautiful story. A story I pictured as a lovestory. But actually, as the band told me, inspired by how nature thaws after a cold winternight. a lovely theme for this song, a beautiful marriage between violin, guitar and octave mandolin.

Talking about imagination, the next song The Cliffs Of Moher is what inspired me to write the intro of this review. The song is a lovely -and I really mean lovely- piece of cheerful Irish dance music. So full of joy, of energy, I keep putting it on repeat. Adriaan on guitar starts it up, and as is common in Irish traditionals, both the flute and violin join in together to play a tune so catchy and fun, you just must dance to it.
Aérokorda cleverly build the song up, using small breaks before continuing again with a new variation on the tune changing height, melody or lead instrument ever so slightly, adding more and more energy to the tune, something I know the dancers will pick up on when played live. Heck they had me dancing, whistling and waving my hand with every curl and swirl of the melody. (which looks rather ridiculous on a bike, judging by the looks I got from the other people around me in the morning traffic.Not that I care, I’m enjoying myself too much with this album to be bothered.)



After the frantic cheerfulness of The Cliffs Of Moher, the next song Mist is a nice change of pace.
It’s a nice upbeat cultural mix-up song. As if a Celtic flute player met a gypsy violinist during a balfolk dance night and they started to play together. Improvising and reacting to each other as the go along, blending their music together. With a bit of imagination you could say it sounds like Vivaldi playing some variations on Celtic music. And… it works.

By now I think it’s clear I am loving this album. It’s well played, well composed and so catchy. This is a CD made to spread fun and joy, made to dance upon and enjoy life. Aérokorda Jig, the sixth song on Hush The Wolves is, again, positive Celtic folk meets Balkan dance tune. Flutist Davy Cautaerts starts it with a nice upbeat melody. Pavel picks up on it again and the jig becomes yet another beautiful ‘duel’ between flute and violin. Balfolk people will love this music. But not only them, There is enough quality and variation in each song to fully enjoy this from the luxury of a couch as well. If you can keep yourself from getting up and swirling through your living room that is.

With Ashokan Farewell we get our breath back, as the soft touch of the guitar strings is leading you into a gentle ballad, a duet between guitar and flute, later joined by Pavel on his violin. A lovely calm moment to get your heartbeat down again. Also the first moment on the album where guitarist Adriaan van Wonterghem – most of the time weaving his rhythmic melodies into the music in a supportive role- steps into the floodlights to play some delicate guitar solos. Something he does again on slaapzacht (sleep well), a gentle solo piece for guitar, but so song orientated, that I only noticed it was a solo piece the 5th time I listened it. That is actually a feature of the whole album. There are a lot of solo-esque moments in there, but it never becomes a show of skills. It is always in service of the melody, only done to enhance the beauty of the song.

The best example of that is Backstage Andro. It starts with a catchy but oh so calming guitar riff. The violin solo that Pavel Souvandjiev puts over that guitar is pure magic. It starts small and gentle but boy does he open up halfway in a powerful full on solo melody. Trust me, with his violin Pavel can say more in one song than I can say in a week. But it remains a song. Without doubt the best one on this album. Just put your stereo a wee bit louder, -not to much it will become loud enough as it is-, lean back and let the music embrace you. Stunning!
This is also the right time for me to compliment Adriaan on the way he recorded and mixed the CD. He did it in a really clean way with only subtle stereo effects, really getting the best out of all this lovely music.

Now I could go on and on about Hush The Wolves, but I won’t. It’s time for the customary conclusion of this review. On Hush The Wolves the three members of Aérokorda give you the lush, cheerful music of Eire, the traditional guitar chords of Spain and the pure beauty of Eastern European musical heritage.They can be gentle as a raindrop in summer, or grand like the ocean waves. Everybody who loves traditional instrumental folk, has a heart for Eastern European music and ballfolk or appreciates a bit of classical chamber music should have this album in their collection. This is a must have CD. Period!

Cliff

Editor: Diane
Picture credits: Aérokorda
first two, taken in Ireland. Third and fourth Marielle Groot Obbink, taken at Midwinter fair 2018 Aérokorda
Sleeve art: Lander Cardon

SeeD – Through The Veil (2017)



Well, I tried. I really tried… I tried to make a impartial, objective review of the New SeeD album Through The Veil and I couldn’t. It didn’t work. Why?
Since 2015 I have been following SeeD and I just love them. I love the positive, cheerful energy they spread on stage. I love their ‘outside of the box’ thinking. Recording your debut CD in a forest? Why not! Energy breakdown on a Spanish Festival??? Just step off the podium and build the biggest party ever I front of it! (see picture on the right) Swapping instruments and play a song like that ‘life on air’ during a CeltCast interview? Sure we dare to do that!
I love to see their friendship on stage and I love the way they interact with the crowd, with the fans. Ánd I LOVE their music!! I’s so cheerful and positive. It gives you a smile the minute you hear it. And after all that, they recorded Through The Veil together with my favourite sound ‘artist’ Fieke van den Hurk, at the Dearworld studio. I give up. I’m biased. Big time!


After the intro -with impressive singing from Sara- the first notes of the title song Through The Veil take you into the magical realm of the fae, the gnomes, the goblins and seedlings. Just as Portal To Elfland before it, the CD is a nice mixture between instrumental songs and vocals. With a big role for Koen van Egmond on solo flute. He, in my opinion, is one of the best solo flutists in the scene. Having the ability to tell a whole story with only his flute. Just listen to the titel song Through The Veil, Seedling, or FFuya and you’ll know what I mean. As a band SeeD epitomize the spirit of the pagan folk scene. Their approach to music is free spirited, sometimes a bit unconventional, but always pure from their hearts. It says enough that the band sees friendship as the main force behind their music. In a way SeeD reminds me of the way music was made in the 60’s at the height of the flower power. It has that same sense of freedom, that same feel of love and that same captivating happiness running though it.

For those who don’t know SeeD yet, they play pagan folk using Flute, percussion, bouzouki and slidgeridoo as their main instruments. The lyrics are musical fairy tales. Telling the stories of gnomes, goblins, seedlings and all the other creatures that life in the magical world of SeeD. Just as a proper fairy tale is a bit gruesome and has some life lessons hidden in it, SeeD is not afraid to pack a serious message in their stories as well. De Gnoom, De Heks En De Boom -sung in Dutch- or Thorny Vines are good examples of that. Giving the band’s lyrics an extra quality. As mentioned Through The Veil is recorded in the Dearworld studio with Fieke van den Hurk at the controls. She managed to give the CD an open, crisp and fresh sound. Almost as if it was recorded life in one take. Something that works well with SeeD’s style of music.
All the songs on the CD are lovely, but The Heron deserves a special mentioning. The heron -the bird that is- is Koen’s totem animal. And in this song he honours her. The song itself is an earworm that you really can’t get ride of, and features some stunning flute improvisation from Koen in the middle of the song. Making it one of my highlights on the CD, actually one of the best instrumental pagan folk songs I’ve heared. Stunning.
Another highlight is Lullaby. A love song that shows how much Koen has grown as a singer in the last years, performing on stage. His voice and Sara’s blend beautifully. And it is already a favourite among the fans.

But I shouldn’t focus too much on Koen alone. All play an important part on this CD. Just listen to the percussion and slidgeridoo on The Heron. The song wouldn’t have the impact it has, if it wasn’t for the rhythm section behind it, setting the tone in the intro. Same goes for The Hobgoblin’s Gift or The Goblin’s Pogo. The percussion in those songs is so important, they wouldn’t work without it.
Now what more can I tell about Through The Veil? I could tell about the good vibes it spreads. Play Seedling, Roots, the Goblin’s Pogo or The Hobgoblin’s gift and I guarantee you an instant smile. Or I could mention the tender part of SeeD, the songs Winter, Lullaby and The Heron are beautiful examples of strong powerful pagan folk ballads. Now I could go on and on but I won’t . Bottom line is: SeeD made a strong pagan folk CD with Through The Veil. One that I can highly recommend, with a huge smile on my face!

Cliff

PS: After proofreading the review Koen told me that 10 of the 13 goblin voices were done by Robin Dekker. Robin kept coming up with new goblin voices he could do, and then would rush back behind the microphone to do yet another one. Koen also confirmed that the fujara flute solo in The Heron was indeed an improvisation. ‘The heron was actually 90% written ánd improvised on the day of the recording’ Koen told me. Two lovely behind the scenes ‘fun facts’ I didn’t want to keep to myself.

– Text editor: Diane
– Sleeve art design: Robin Dekker
– Photo of SeeD in Spain by SeeD pagan folk.
– All other pictures taken at Castlefest by Cliff de Booy

The Royal Spuds – Unforgotten Lore (2018)



From the moist dirt of South Holland a new kind of tuber emerged. The kind that walks on two legs and is fused with an instrument of choice. Some might say it is a spud, but it is not just any spud, no it is a Royal Spud! Perfect for a half-baked punk mash with chunks, suffused with a traditional Irish shamerock ‘n’ roll sauce. As befits a ‘real’ spud the possibilities with it are endless! And remember, just as with any salty fried spud, once you have had a taste of it, you will be left craving for more.
With this free interpretation of their band bio we can proudly present Unforgotten Lore, the new EP of the Royal Spuds! What? A punk folk band on CeltCast? Yes, because with A Man they have written a semi-acoustic punk folk ballad that fulfills all the criteria that a song needs to be played on our livestream. And I for one am thrilled about that. The Spuds’ music takes me right back to the early 2000’s, when I was still volunteering in an alternative youth centre, and I regularly crashed the dancefloor on tunes from The Killers, Reel Big Fish, Rancid‘s Time bomb, Dropkick Murphys, Chumbawamba and the Royal Spu…… Wait a minute, not so fast. Not the Spuds. Although their music would have fitted perfectly in this list, their story starts a wee bit later. Around ten years later actually. To be precise it starts in 2012 with their debut album Wanted, Drunk ‘N’ Alive!

At the time they sounded just the way a young punk folk band should sound: rough, tough and pure. Sound wise you could compare them with the rough punk folk of the Dropkick Murphys enriched with some metal influences, especially in the guitar sound and solos. A cool debut album, even after all those years.
The next Spuds album, It’s A Feckin’ Freakshow, came out in 2015. The sound was getting more melodic, with a big role for Micky’s tin whistle and accordion, but still with a sharp, aggressive metal feel, especially in the guitar sound of Milan and Robin. Songs like Tonight I’m Staying In would not look out of place on a Dropkick Murphys, Toy Dolls or The Real McKenzies CD. Pure upbeat punk folk. But songs like Mary Goes Round or the beautiful ballad The Dying Rebel already showed that The Royal Spuds were becoming more then just a straight forward Punk band. And now we have Unforgotten Lore. It came out just before before the end of last year, and the big question is, did they ramp up the quality even more on their newest mini album?
Listening to the first two songs, Too Old For This and Johnny Jump Up it’s clear not much has changed in the Spuds world. It is party time right from the start. Good quality punk folk, a Bro Hymn kinda sing-along chorus and a stunner of a guitar solo by Milan are more then enough to get things going. The band sounds tighter than ever before and the flute that already had a big role on Feckin’ Freakshow is even more prominent now.

Johnny Jump Up, the second drinking song – nothing changed there too- is an earworm that I can’t seem to get out of my head for days now. Micky’s accordion together with the chorus is so addictive. Another thing you will notice is how much Maarten has grown as a singer. His voice has become warm and powerful with the right amount of sandpaper when he needs it. In early Spud days, he shouted his lyrics out, but nowadays all the power comes out of a big set of lungs and good singing technique. With those two tools he easily matches the energy of the band.
As I said, Johnny Jump Up is a genuine earworm, cool melody, catchy chorus, and a cheerful ska riff make this an instant party song. You also hear the biggest change between the earlier two albums and Unforgotten Lore, the guitar sound. I already mentioned that the guitars on Feckin’ Freakshow still had a metal sound. Sharp heavy distorted riffs filled up the space in between the other instruments. This time Milan and Robin have a much cleaner rock sound. Which gives the other instruments much more room to shine. You can, as an example, now clearly hear the lovely grooving basslines that Dave is playing. A good thing ’cause he is running all over the neck of his bass guitar on Unforgotten Lore. Never knew he was such a funky bass player.
Ok I have to admit, The Spuds did lose a bit of pure aggression in their sound with this change, but gained so much melody and variation in exchange for it that I can wholeheartedly support their decision. Guitarist Milan told me that the band developed the new sound together with their sound technician and Kayāmata singer Loek Stevens, who also is responsible for recording Unforgotten Lore.

The variation the Spuds gained becomes really clear on the album’s sixth song, Tri Martolod. A cover of this traditional from Bretagne made famous by Alain Stivell. The Spuds version starts with a gentle acoustic intro on guitar and flute, but soon it turns into a surprising flute solo break that wouldn’t sound out of place on a old Jethro Tull or Focus album. What a cool solo this is. Micky is really rocking his flute here. The Spuds have some more surprises up their sleeve in Tri Martolod. Breaks, sing-alongs, pace acceleration, they throw everything at you, but the biggest treat is hidden in the end. The reggae acceleration with yet another flute solo finishing the song, is the icing on the cake. What’s happening here???? After hearing this the first time I was convinced by the refreshed Spuds sound. This is brilliant stuff! Rancid, Reel Big Fish, eat your heart out!

Another surprise is A Man. You could call it an acoustic Irish folk meets Western folk rock ballad. Good catchy song. People who like Sunfire will probably like this song too. It has it all, banjo, strong vocals, grooving bass and again that enchanting flute solo from Micky. Next up is Ally In Killarney, a cool straightforward punk song. But, I can’t give any more in depth (pun intended) comments about it or its lyrics to avoid a parental advisory sticker on this review.

The last surprise is also the last song on Unforgotten Lore. A heroic saga like the Swedish metal band Dream Evil would play. The Last Wild Haggis is a pure punk metal powerballad, including another cool guitar solo by Milan. It also has – just as Dream Evil- over the top, totally odd lyrics. Who ever would come up with the idea of Scotsmen hunting wild HAGGIS!!! Well the Royal Spuds would!
Up till now I’ve always seen the Royal Spuds as the angry young brother of Dutch melodic folk punk band Scrum. But young brothers grow up, as did the Royal Spuds. And with Unforgotten Lore they settle themselves right next to Scrum as one of the top bands in the Dutch melodic punk folk scene. Well done.

-Cliff

Editor: Diane
Pictures: Marielle Groot Obbink






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