various artists,
I'r Brawd Hwdini
(Tribute to the Songs of Meic Stevens)

(Sain-Crai, 2003)

This CD is a tribute to legendary 60-year-old Welsh folk-rock songwriter Meic Stevens. Ordinarily, I'm not fond of tribute albums done by a variety of different artists in so many styles. However, in this case, it works fairly well, probably because of the strength of the songwriting underpinning these efforts and the esteem in which the music community in Wales holds Stevens.

Featured artists range from Sian James and Dafydd Iwan at the folk end of the spectrum to rock, pop, punk, metal and reggae, all in Welsh.

Stevens has been around so long and has written and recorded mountains of music: he was involved in the early days of folk-rock and was into Celtic music when Brittany's Alain Stivell was the only one interested in making it. The CD's 15 tracks reflect many phases of his career. They all merit a listen but it's the kind of collection where some might be tempted to use the "next" button on the CD player, depending on personal taste.

Stevens has a meditative, somewhat repetitive style of songwriting that lends itself to an acoustic blues arrangement such as Mim Twm Llai's opener "Merch o'r ffatri wlan." It works well, too, in the atmospheric "Tryweryn" recorded by Gwenno. This song illustrates the Welsh obsession with drowned villages and landscapes; Cwm Tryweryn was drowned in the 1960s to create a water source for England -- water that was never used. Alcatraz's "Bibopalwla'r Delyn Aur" surely also merits a listen, despite some fuzzy electronics in the last verse.

There's something here for all tastes. Llwybr Llaethog does reggae. Neil Rosser contributes "Gwely Gwag," a blues number. Heather Jones on "Capel Bronwen" presents the song in a sparse a cappella syle. Estella's take on "Dim ond Cysgodion" is somewhere between Pretenders and Robert Plant. Celt and Bryn Fon contribute solid folk-pop interpretations.

The CD, unfortunately, lacks a lyric sheet, any biographical material on Stevens or much on the artists who perform here. Perhaps none of this is necessary for a Welsh audience but it is essential for a broader American or European sale.

If nothing else, this CD is an eye-opener to the number of bands and variety of music available in the Welsh language. I recommend it, but be ready for anything.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 31 January 2004