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Sain Recordings SCD2702

Gwenan has taken over three years to follow up her finely-tuned 2009 (second) CD, Sidan Glas, with a third, and who can argue when there’s no decline in quality either of playing or singing or of interest in the choice of material. The disc’s title specifically refers to cerdd dant, the unique and ancient art of singing poetry to harp accompaniment, but this time round Gwenan takes cerdd dant into new artistic territory with the incorporation of some contemporary features and variations in form and structure which depart from the stricter aspects of the convention.

Lest this still sounds unduly esoteric or inclusive, let me reassure you at the outset that the result is entirely charming, whether the mood be serene and contemplative or playful and amusing. These contrasts are pointed deliciously on the opening pair of tracks: a depiction of magical nights of singing and harp playing that bind folk together and a comic portrayal of sleepless nights (Gwenan performs the latter in vocal duet with Cerys Matthews). But there’s plenty more to enjoy over the course of the ensuing 40 minutes. Her setting of Dafydd Iwan’s passionate anti-war poem A Glywi Di? is a standout track, as is the plaintive traditional lament Glan Môr Heli and the enchanting Rowndio’r Horn, a song of sailor’s longing, for which Gwenan is joined by fellow-singer Meinir Gwilym. By contrast, and equally enticing in its own way, is the humorous look at love Nid Yw Cariad Yn Ddall, which intrigues the listener with its cross accent rhythms (the harp and sung melodies being in different time signatures). Gwenan’s ability to convey a range of different emotions through the precision of her vocal technique is well demonstrated on a fun, alliterative set of nonsense words, a summer carol, and the poignant Bro (although the spoken introduction to the latter jars a little even in context I find). The disc’s final item is a captivating self-penned song about Gwenan’s home town of Pwllheli.

Gwenan’s vocal prowess is always perfectly complemented by her sprightly yet intensely felt instrumental dexterity, while she also enjoys the support of creative multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock on a significant number of the items, although his contributions are admirably subtle and never threaten to overpower the harp; there are also guest appearances from Dafydd Roberts (flute) and/or Stephen Rees and Huw Roberts (fiddle) on certain tracks. Towards the end of the disc, there’s also a lively instrumental medley to break up the sung tracks.

In short, Cerdd Dannau does exactly what it advertises – affording a new perspective on the art of cerdd dant while celebrating its ancient tradition – and does so most delightfully too.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.