Dafydd Iwan,
Caneuon Gwerin
(Sain, 1993)

Dafydd Iwan, father of the Welsh folk music renaissance, recorded this fine collection of traditional folk tunes of Wales after 30 years as a singer-songwriter and activist.

For those unfamiliar with Iwan, a short introduction is in order. Iwan, the musician, is best known for turning tunes such as "My Way" and "This Land is Your Land" into Welsh nationalist anthems, and for writing a few of his own such as "I'r Gad (To Battle)" and "Yma O Hyd (Still Here)." He was co-founder of Sain, the premier Welsh recording company. And as political activist, he's been both jailed for his actions in defense of the Welsh language and culture and elected to Gwynedd Council as a Plaid Cymru member.

On this recording, Iwan turns his talents to interpreting the traditional repertoire of Welsh folk songs. Caneuon Gwerin, which means simply "folk songs," contains 15 of them, all worthwhile, particularly as an introduction to the folk music of Wales. Most are well-trod territory, but few if any are of the "hackneyed" variety. On the contrary, they warrant a larger audience.

The CD notes provide the Welsh lyrics and a short explanation of the songs in English, so the non-Welsh speaker can tell what the songs are about. For those who think Welsh music is simply Tom Jones, miners' choirs singing hymns and arias, and harp music, here's a revelation.

He begins the collection with the rousing "Moliannwn (Let's Rejoice)," a standard made popular by troubadour Bob Roberts for a North American-Welsh audience in the early part of this century. (For a really rousing version of this, see the Dolgellau band Gwerinos.) It's followed by a change of pace with the expressive ballad "Ar Lan y Mor (By the Sea Shore)." Without understanding a word, you get the sense of loss and the rugged natural setting of the singer's memories. "Y Ferch o Blwy' Penderyn (The Girl from Penderyn Parish)" is another classic featuring a fine harp solo by Dafydd Roberts.

The collection picks up energy mid-way through with a selection of sea shanties, a medley of "Harbwr Corc" and an instrumental version of "Fflat Huw Puw," followed by "Rownd yr Horn," a fun piece about a trip around Ynys Mn (Anglesea) that winds up with the hapless sailors bashing up against Mn's rocky shores.

But the best moments on this record come with the ballad "Y Deryn Pur (The Pure Bird)," the love song "Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn (Watching the Wheat)" and the simple and beautiful lullaby "Si Hei Lwli." And the two "ffarwel" songs on the album are a reminder of the many residents of the Welsh-speaking heartland of Meirionydd and Llyn who have had to leave to find work, and their expression of longing for the familiar places their homeland and loved ones.

It's an endearing (and enduring) collection. For the most part, these are done solo and straight-up folk, with acoustic instruments and few embellishments. The quality of the musicianship is high. Producer Tudur Morgan keeps the attention where it belongs, on the singer and the song, and Iwan is equal to the task. He's a strong singer and cares passionately for this material, as part of the cultural heritage he's fought so hard to promote and protect.

The songs on Caneuon Gwerin have been sung before and will be again, but this CD is one to collect because it's Dafydd Iwan, and it's one of the best recordings of a distinguished career.

[ by David Cox ]
Rambles: 28 September 2002