various artists,
Canu'r Pridd
(Sain, 2003)

Sain, one of two major record labels for the music of Cymru/Wales, continues its good work to mine the folk traditions of that nation. This is one of several anthologies of music to come out of Wales in recent years, and to my mind, is the best. To illustrate, if the Coen Brothers film, O Brother Where Art Thou were to be filmed in Wales, this might have been the soundtrack.

Canu'r Pridd -- which means something like "Songs of the Land" -- does not feel pre-packaged and the music does not try in any way to be trendy. On the other hand, this is not a piece for the folklore museum despite being Folk with a capital "F." Our aunt, who grew up in North Wales during the 1930s and '40s (and still lives there), commented that she hadn't heard many of these songs since she was young and quite enjoyed hearing these contemporary recordings. A few were new to her, as well (all but one song, the classic "Pentre Llanfihangel," being new to me).

The sparse arrangements work to highlight the musicians, who are first rate. There's variety of sound without the songs appearing disconnected from each other. There's also regional balance among the artists, and all lyrics are in Welsh. If anything sparsely populated Powys (mid-Wales) is best represented; the album is dedicated to the memory of Elfed Lewys, a famous Powys character.

Contemporary folk artists such as Fernhill's Julie Murphy with Brigitte Kloareg of Brittany, Ffynnon's Lynn Denman, Plethyn's Linda Healy and Crasdant all appear, but it's not just "big names" by any means. There is music in the plygain (close harmony) tradition from the Foldrehaearn Trio from Mid Wales, penillion singing from Arfon Gwilym and Emrys Jones, humorous ballads, Christmas-themed music, instrumentals from hornpipes, harps, gallegan gaita by Aberjaber, to Cass Meurig on the stringed "crwth."

As usual, Sain provides adequate notes for the songs in both Welsh and English, but fails to provide either the lyrics in Welsh or a translation. If musicians -- particularly Welsh learners -- are going to keep these traditions alive -- they need to be able to learn the words! But still, it's a great pickup for all those interested in a still vibrant Celtic-language culture.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 15 May 2004