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.
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.