(Best of Plethyn)
The National Eisteddfod festival, held each summer in Wales, is the opportunity for all Welsh speakers from every part of Cymru/Wales (and the Welsh diaspora) to get together for a week and speak nothing but the old language -- as opposed to the rest of the year when many are forced in most circumstances to speak English.
This year's Eisteddfod was held in Meifod, home of the Welsh folk group, Plethyn. Fittingly, Sain chose this year's Eisteddfod to release this long awaited "best-of" collection from this legendary group, the Peter, Paul & Mary of Wales.
Plethyn, featuring the fine voice of Linda Healy in close harmony with John Gittins and Roy Griffiths, were most active in the 1978-95 period and are remembered with fondness by many as pioneers of authentic folk music in Welsh.
This recording is unlike many compilations in that they actually went back and re-recorded 11 of the 18 tracks, smoothing out the rough edges in the originals. On balance, it's an upgrade, even though the originals were fine. Presumably, Sain intends at some time to release the full back catalogue of Plethyn on CD so we can make the comparison ourselves.
Though Plethyn fans have plenty to choose from, some of the songs here do stray into the "whitebread" category; given a simple melody, Healy's voice is so strong and clear she tends to sound like pop singer when she is not careful! Plethyn's best moments come when the three singers are right up close to each other in the traditional plygain style. The strong lyrics of longtime collaborator Myrddin ap Dafydd (perhaps one of the best poets in Wales today) are also a defining feature of many of these tunes, as is the musical guiding hand of guitarist-producer Tudur Morgan.
Although most of my favorite Plethyn tunes are included, I'd have chosen "Hyddgen," "Mae gen I Breuddwyd" and "Cainc yr Aradwr" from their last album, Seidir Ddoe, in addition to the selections here.
From their earlier period, I'm happy with the selection of "Y Gwylliaid" and "Pentre Llanfihangel" from Blas y Pridd, and of the strong "Gwaed ar eu Dwylo" and the title track, "Golau tan Gmmwl," from their second release. This is classic Plethyn: melodic, challenging and political.
"Yn dewach na dwr" is a tale of the Malvinas (or Falklands) war, which shows the ties between Welsh people the world over, including those of Welsh descent in Patagonia. From the same album, Teulu'r Tir, comes the fine folk song "Mil harddach wyt." Another highlight is a version of "Cysga di fy Mhlentyn Tlws," very different from that on their recently re-released children's recording Caneuon Gwerin y Blant.
This collection well represents the varied output of this exceptional folk group from Wales in the musical and thematic range of material. The CD cover, a watercolour of Meifod by Kathy Gittins, is beautiful. Missing from this package, however, is a lyric sheet, although a short explanation, written by Dafydd Iwan, is provided for each song.
All in all, it's a good introduction to a standout Welsh folk group that deserves to be remembered and celebrated.