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The gift of music; Introducing Zonnewachter, the new album of Wouter en de Draak

With Christmas fast approaching we also meet that final big challenge of the year: ‘What to give to your loved one who already has everything??’ May I suggest the gift of music? And while I am at it, may I then suggest the newest album of Wouter en de Draak.
Three years after their debut album Wouter en de Draak; an album filled with lovely instrumental balfolk tunes bursting with influences from Celtic Brittany, Wouter Kuyper, and Joris Alblas return with their second full-length CD: Zonnewachter. And just as their debut CD, this new album makes a perfect gift to both the balfolk dancers and the instrumental folk lovers amongst you. I think it says enough that I added 5 songs to my personal CeltCast Spotify list!
Do you want to know more about this lovely CD? Then follow the link and dance with me. Let’s celebrate Yule and/or Christmas as it should be done, balfolking through the living room. Shove your furniture to one side, press play, and dance until spring returns again. Let’s celebrate life together with Wouter, Joris and their musical friends. Let’s celebrate it with the sound of their new album Zonnewachter.

Merry Christmas and a blessed Yule

Wouter en de Draak – Zonnewachter (2021) review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Wave Paganfolk! Waldkauz Style!

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


Waldkauz – Labyrinth (2021) review

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

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

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

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

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


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

HIMLA – Himla (2020) review

I love Scandinavian music. Not only the Nordic folk bands like Trolska Polska, Heilung or Martine Kraft. No also the more alternative artists like Björk, Eivør, Euzen en Valravn. All these bands bring something special to the table. A quirkiness that I don’t hear in regular British or American alternative music. Quite often Scandinavian music feels unique, the melody lines they use are intriguingly unexpected, and their energy is extremely addictive.
The Norwegian/Danish band HIMLA is no exception. This singer/songwriter trio shares the same free-spirited sound with all the bands I just mentioned. Especially fans of Eivør and Valravn should give these three ladies a chance. Although mostly acoustic, HIMLA’s music is just as intense as those two last acts. Maybe even more so because of their ingenious use of instruments. IThe fact that 7 out of the 10 songs on HIMLA’s debut album made it into my personal CeltCast folk music Spotify list speaks for itself. But as always I am getting waaay ahead of myself. Let’s introduce these three talented ladies in a proper way…
HIMLA is a new Nordic collaboration between singer and songwriter Adine Fliid (DK / NO), cellist Oda Dyrnes (NO), and clarinettist Siri Iversen (DK). Together, the trio creates a space for immersion and perdition in the joys and sorrows of everyday life and lets the audience get up close and personal in their intimate concerts. The three women draw their primary inspiration from pop, but also add elements from folk music, avant-garde and chamber music to it. They let the acoustic sound be the centre of their sonic experiments.
Around a strong lyrical vocal and a text universe, sung in both Danish and Norwegian, sonorous rugs are woven of dancing bow strokes and warm crackling air currents. Those sounds open a window to the open Nordic plains. HIMLA is found where melancholy meets the energy of life and tells about the landscape of emotions and dreams that lies just below the surface of everyday life.’
That is the way HIMLA describes themselves on their Facebook page, and actually… …it sums them up perfectly.

So what does this musical landscape of emotions and dreams sound like? Well, Flo Og Fjaere starts, as you would expect from a singer/songwriter act, with a warm and gentle acoustic guitar line, followed by a single voice. Adine’s voice immediately grabs you. It has a lovely warmth to it, but it easily cuts through the melody as well. From the first few notes, she manages to express so much emotion with it. Although I don’t speak Norwegian or Danish I never felt the urge to look up the lyrics. Her voice alone connects with me in a way that makes words redundant. A truly unique feature. The acoustic guitar and cello are a perfect accompaniment to Adine’s voice, adding even more to the fragile, warm but also intense sound of HIMLA. You have to hear this to realize how powerful a fragile sound can be. There is one other finishing ingredient to Himla’s unique sound. I have to admit it took me a wee bit of time before I realized what it was. The low notes in Flo Og Fjaere came from a bass clarinet. When I finally realized the unique instrumental setup of this band I was stunned. How magical. How original. And how wonderful it all fits together. Their music is a soft touch to your skin, sending out unexpected shivers that travel deep into the musical core of your being. With sudden bursts of emotion that work like nails temptingly scratching over your soul. And this is only the first song.

The full potential of this guitar/vocal, cello and bass clarinet combination is revealed in the second song Jeg Savner Et Eller Andet. Again the music starts very small, very intimate and quiet. A bit like an acoustic version of Valravn. The deep sound of the clarinet creates the perfect cradle for Adine’s voice to snuggle into. As the song builds the music grows from a ‘simple’ singer/songwriter song towards modern chamber music before it gets all distorted and avant-garde. Think of the magical sound that Jyoti Verhoeff and Fieke van den Hurk created on the 2018 Touches… album. It’s only a short moment, but it is so powerful.

De store Skibe is another wonderful song. Just listen to that beautiful combination of Oda Dyrnes’cello wrapping around Adine’s carefully pronounced words. For a second the guitar melody reminds me of the theme song from the movie MASH (Suicide Is Painless), and I realise that HIMLA have that same calming quality in their music as this famous song does.
Four songs in and my mind is already made up. This is an amazing album. No question about it. If you love artistic singer-songwriter/folk music then this album is a must-have!

I could pick up on so many more things, like the gentle pop feel of Fra Den Grønne Port; he intensely beautiful ballad Uten Røtter; The avant-garde/folk song Hjertet Er Stengt (Beautiful harmony singing in there as well); the almost Rachel Croft like arrangements on Jeg Kalder Ham Min and Sort Kul, but what I notice the most is the simplicity of it all. The amount of space left for every single instrument to breathe. For every single note to resonate inside of you. ‘Less is more’ they say. Well, less is way more in this case. Just like a good book, it leaves so much room for your own thoughts, your own interpretation, and emotions.

There is SOO much intent in Himla’s music. You find it in every note played, in every word sung, in every silence they add in between the notes. HIMLA truly makes the most of the use of classical instruments. Played by skillful musicians a cello or bass clarinet can weep, they can sing, they can be melancholic, they can sound out of this world. Well trust me, Oda Dyrnes and Siri Iversen ARE skilled musicians. And Adine Fliid is an equally accomplished singer-songwriter. So this album oozes emotion. It oozes melancholic tenderness. It oozes pure quality, note after note after note! If you ever wondered what a combination of Anna Katrin Egilstrod (Valravn), Eivør, Jyoti Verhoeff and Björk would sound like? Well here is your answer. The alternative folk scene has a new gem here. What a way to pick up a new season of writing reviews again.


Editor: Sara
Pictures: Himla


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