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Appel Records APR1354

Snaarmaarwaar is a Belgian three-piece outfit (though the line-up often delights to deceive with the sound of twice that complement!); the music is centred around creative and considered deployment of assorted string textures (mandola, mandolin, lap steel and guitars) within a largely traditionally-inspired framework arising in the main from the compositional skills of Maarten Decombel (he’s responsible for a high proportion of the disc’s tracks). Fellow-conspirators Ward Dhoore and Jeroen Geerinck provide more than just a foil for Maarten’s musicianship with some brilliant playing of their own, subtly adding occasional accordion, Rhodes and bodhrán to the mix, while the disc’s arrangements sometimes also incorporate a touch of programming into their soundscapes.

For much of the time, the overall blend of the trio’s music, while clearly inspired by traditional dance models, also has the air of the tightly-constructed tone-poem. And yet there’s also a feeling of genuine enjoyment in the interpersonal exchanges allowed by the grooves. On tracks like the waltz-time Lange Nelle I was reminded of Nickel Creek or other newgrass practitioners, and Domino has a cautious neo-Latin flavour, whereas on those occasions when the trio lets rip a bit (the powerful, riff-driven Roscoff, the rockist guitar electrics of Drivin’ Nowhere and the John Brady’s tune-medley) the three musicians generate a different kind of excitement. As they do on Gustave, a charming and delectably infectious melange of Django and Piaf café music, and the jazzy spaghetti-western-theme mood of Tjanne.

Maarten’s keen inventiveness brings many incidental delights to the contours of the music too – on disc opener Slagwerk, for instance, Maarten’s own voice is used unobtrusively as an additional instrumental line (the cumulative song Patrysse is otherwise the disc’s only vocal number). All told, B.L.O.C.K. proves a pleasingly invigorating listen.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.