Both Sides/O'r Ddwy Ochr
(Sain, 2003)

Rachel Williams, performing simply as Rachel, brings her Cornish and Welsh roots to this recording of female voice, self accompanied on harp, in the tradition of Sian James and Loreena McKennitt.

Rachel's repertoire is wide-ranging and multilingual, and represents many corners of the British Isles. She sings in the native languages of Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man, as well as English, and presents songs from other areas of the Isles besides.

She's Welsh born, uses primarily Welsh musicians (Stephen Rees of Crasdant and Ywain Myfyr of Gwerinos, to name two) and has produced this CD in Caernarfon's Sain studios, so this disc has a strong Welsh flavour. But, in truth, the strongest track on the album is a Hungarian melody sung in Cornish as "Hwerow Hweg (Bitter Sweet)."

While Rachel has a strong, clear mezzo-soprano voice, she does not have the perfect vocal instrument that James and McKennitt possess -- she sometimes makes mistakes in her breathing, causing her to slide from one note to another as a pop singer might -- so her music often suffers by comparison.

Her rendition of "Cariad Cyntaf," though beautiful, brings to mind the superior version on James's album Gweini Tymor. And, while it is nice to hear Rachel sing "Symud Drwy'r Ffair," Dafydd Iwan's excellent translation of the Irish classic "She Moves Through the Fair," it suffers in comparison with the English-language version sung by McKennitt on Elemental.

But when Rachel strikes out on her own on "Hwerow Hweg," along with Rees's spectacular work on fiddle, her voice seems perfectly suited to the material. The bilingual "Troyte's Chant," known to many Dylan Thomas fans as "Eli Jenkins' Prayer," is also a nice touch. And even her rendition of Sting's "Fields of Gold" is quite fine.

The album suffers from lack of lyrics or translations (an ongoing complaint of mine against Sain products) but features attractive cover art, adequate song information and credits. Both Sides/O'r Ddwy Ochr is a promising, if not wholly satisfying, chance to hear a musician who may have more to offer us in future.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 3 July 2004