Avalon Rising,
Avalon Rising
(Flowinglass, 1995)

Avalon Rising didn't have to do much to win me over. The self-titled album starts with "The Great Selkie," a traditional song I've been longing to hear performed since I was wee. I would have loved the song even if it hadn't been wrapped in music that so clearly held the swell and crash of waves, carried by the ice-clear voices of Margaret Davis and Deirdre McCarthy. The inclusion of the Peter Gascoyne's refrain for the song's gunner was a completely unnecessary bribe.

Following the shining perfection of "The Great Selkie," "Where the Sunset Is Golden" has an inappropriately dark quality. The melody becomes repetitive too quickly, and Kristoph Klover's vocals have a distant, dull sound that makes a poor companion to Davis' lighter background vocals.

Happily, most of the album follows the feel of "Selkie." "Andray Soulet" opens with a high, winding flute that leaves the ear open for the captivating, caravan beat of the drums. Davis adds to the exotic feel of the song with keening vocals very different from her performance on the rest of the album. Her performance on the equally exotic "Contre Le Tens/Toda Cousa" is a light, ethereal thing, lightly touching on the solid, deep notes of the instruments.

And the instruments on display on Avalon Rising could impress an orchestra. Songs are enhanced by flute and harp, recorder and mandolin, French horn and electric guitar. Peter Gascoyne's drums add a vital heartbeat to the faster songs and a steady pulse to more thoughtful compositions. Avalon Rising has a great sense for which instrument benefits which song; from the electric guitar storming through "To the Sea" to the nightingale flute echoing across the "Dark Moon Circle," the instruments add as much flesh to the songs as the vocalists.

The vocalists themselves are a grand array of voices. Besides Davis's high, haunting tones, McCarthy adds a rougher, wild woman's voice that burns through "To the Sea" and adds a comforting warmth to all of the songs lucky enough to have her background vocals. Gascoyne only leads one song, but his voice has a young, innocent quality well suited to the confident hope in "Reborn." Even Klover, who sounds maddeningly distant and bored in most of his performances, puts on a fireworks show of energy for the galloping pace of "Black Davies' Ride."

Avalon Rising travels the realms of Celtic to Renaissance to rock. The mix of delicacy and passion draws a compelling story around deep oceans and strange forests, and changes maudlin sentiment to subtle insight. Avalon Rising dates from 1995. I hope the group is preparing a new offering; a decade is too long to wait for this quality of music.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 29 March 2003

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