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FFYNNON - Llongau

FFYNNON - Llongau
Taith Records TRCD00018

Welsh band Ffynnon (pronounced “fun-on”) haven’t released an album since 2007’s slightly strange offering Adar Gwylltion, so I was glad to find Llongau (“ships”) on the review list. It finds Ffynnon now stripped down to a basic trio line-up, where the close-knit nucleus comprises Lynne Denman (vocals) and Stacey Blythe (harp, accordion, piano and vocals), and Dylan Fowler contributes lap steel guitar and chime bars and is responsible for the whole expert production aspect of the disc.

Llongau is a beautiful album, conjuring and inhabiting a seriously enchanting soundscape. Cool, quiet, accomplished, at times slightly jazzy or ambient, but more atmospheric than radical and making uniquely beguiling capital out of minimal resources to create a surprisingly rich tonal palette, a truly magical tapestry within which to clothe the ladies’ fabulous, bright and confident vocals. Lynne is blessed with a voice of real depth, power and character, capable of a variety of expressive modes, while Stacey’s supporting singing is elemental, intense and ideally closely matched to her (and Dylan’s) vital instrumental embellishments. The gorgeously resonant textures embody individual, and sometimes quite unusual, sounds which are brilliantly well defined within a believable and intimate acoustic setting.

The material Ffynnon choose to perform is both fascinating and intriguing, and although a majority of the disc’s 14 items are sung in Welsh this is not as much of a barrier to listener appreciation as it might appear, for the purely musical sensuality of the language and its carefully considered accompaniment are heard to win through every time. Five of the Welsh pieces come from the Pembrokeshire Repertoire Project, which aimed to reintroduce songs originally collected in the 1960s and 70s by Dr Roy Saer in that locality; these include the skipsome Mari Mari and the disc’s lovely a cappella bookends – Dyma Flwyddyn Newydd Eto (a song for the turning of the year) and the brief Dacw ‘nghartref Yn Y Golwg (a song of homecoming and journey’s end). There’s also the delicious singsong tale of the foxy thief and the big blond woman (Y Cadno a’r Ladi Fawr Benfelen) which certainly has the ring of folk familiarity. The rousing Llongau Caernarfon is from the north, with a Norwegian tune, while Morforwyn and Merch Y Llyn, both Lynne’s own compositions, display her acute flair for retelling traditional legends. Merch Y Llyn also contains a section in French, and Ffynnon’s facility with that language informs their joyous rendition of Là-bas Dans La Prairie.

Finally, the disc contains four items sung in English; one’s a stately neo-romantic setting by Stacey of W.B.Yeats’ poem He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, while the others are original songs by Lynne. These are clear and concise expressions of often very personal thoughts, with backdrops impeccably and empathically placed by Stacey, and could be seen to share a common theme in that they all explore wholly human responses to an inhuman situation and provide some degree of reassurance. No Language was occasioned by the diagnosis of a parent with schizophrenia, while Small Victory, a story of redemption amidst the grimness of war, was inspired by a newspaper story about the soldiers' charity Nowzad Dogs, started when a soldier rescued a street dog from cruel treatment in Afghanistan and brought it home to the UK with him. Finally, the ominous, enigmatic Parapet reflects powerfully on concurrent changes in the writer’s personal and political worlds.

This is a stunning record, and one which ought to raise the profile of Welsh folk music immeasurably.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 110 of The Living Tradition magazine.