Sian James,
(Bos, 2000)

While the special effects were spectacular, I admit to having problems with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. I miss the music, particularly "Galadriel's Song." I have no idea if Cate Blanchett is a good singer, but to have the words and melody I've always imagined coming out of her lips would work for me, even if someone else were singing them.

But now I have heard the voice of Galadriel, and I can recommend it to Peter Jackson for any future Lord of the Rings tie-ins. It's Sian James, pure and simple. And although she's not singing in Quenya, Tolkien's high-elven language, she sings in Welsh rather than English as she accompanies herself on harp.

Raised bilingual in a small Welsh village, James started playing harp at age 11. Pur (Welsh for "pure") is perhaps her simplest yet most revealing release. It's just James' voice and harp -- no other accompaniment, "little studio intrusion" (as James terms it) and recorded in the Welsh countryside.

The first two numbers are "messenger songs," in which lovers use birds to communicate their feelings to their sweethearts. Both of those pieces,"Y Deryn Pur (The Pure Bird)" and "B Di'r 'Deryn Du (Wilt Thou Go My Blackbird)" are romantic traditional numbers, with uplifting, yet gentle, melodies that echo their sweet themes.

More traditional songs follow, resulting in themes of love, lost love, regret and death. James, however, includes some unusual choices. There's the saucy, upbeat "Dacw 'Nghariad (There is My Sweetheart)." "Ar Fore Dydd Nadoug (On the Morning of Christmas Day)" is a Welsh carol that dates to medieval times. James notes that "Llangollen Market" is "one of the only folk songs ever published by the (Welsh) Folk Song Society with traditional English words." "Mordaith I America (Sea Voyage to America)" is her own composition. Without words, this harp composition is written in a traditional style, and it definitely has the feel of older times.

Dylan Thomas is one of the most famous Welsh writers from more modern times. James has taken his "Evening Prayer" from Under Milk Wood and set it to Troyte's Chant to create a powerful couple of minutes. Sung in English, upon hearing it I found myself catapulted from my English home to Laugharne and Thomas's home in southern Wales set next to the ruins of Laugharne Castle right on the coast of the Tif Estuary.

Pur is an appropriate title for this recording. It's pure Welsh all around -- music, voice and spirit. James may not be the elven lady from Tolkien's imaginations, but with this CD, she weaves a spell upon her listeners that lasts longer than its 51 minutes.

- Rambles
written by Ellen Rawson
published 6 April 2003