Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Welsh Rare Beat: CD Review

Amazon US, posted Feb. 2006. Hard to fathom I'm still the only reviewer there of this. Pity I can't reproduce the map inside; it's similar to the "Dyfed Triangle" one for the upcoming WRB2 compilation out next month that's mentioned in yesterday's post. I've pre-ordered it already as my holiday gift to me, myself, and I.

This enjoyably eclectic and eccentric compilation of artists on the late 60s-70s indie Sain ("Sound") Welsh-language label makes a strong statement for the cultural nationalism that that era's agitation fomented. It reminds me of the Hungarian music from the same decades, when artists inspired by English-language rock and pop and folk decided to make their own assertive messages in the same idiom, but colored by their own traditions and in their native languages. Track 2 here, for example, sounds to me exactly like the Irish band Horslips, who similarly energized folk music for younger listeners with an infusion of harder rock. Compared to the British "acid folk" artists concurrent, the Welsh musicians tend to feature a grittier, tenser, and denser sound, even on the female-dominated vocal tracks here.

As the excellent liner notes by Gruff Rhys (SFA) explain, this meant no male choirs or winsome lasses with harps--although Heather Jones' couple of eloquent cuts do show this influence, if tastefully! He calls this music a blend of psych, blues, rock, pop, and proto-punk. The last of these genres can be best sampled from tracks 20 + 23, which sound as if the Super Furry Animals could've played them for the first time last week. Track 19 shows the more experimental side of the music; the latter half of the album tends to find the music opening up and stretching out into more innovative takes on then-current sounds. By comparison, the first half sounds more of its time, and the tracks often start out very strongly, but, as if constrained by the 3-minute-pop song rule, tend to suddenly fade out just when you wish they'd start to expand and take the song another couple of minutes! Certainly this feeling's rare for a listener to most such compilations of previously unheard music. I can see why Rhys favors best the Meic Stephens track 10--it's a clever and lively tune that shows why that artist's considered a peer of Dylan--Bob more than Thomas, perhaps.

The packaging deserves special mention. There's even a map of Wales which imitates the cut-and-paste graphics and period typography in showing the relevance of such movements as the Welsh Language Society and the Abergawn martyrs and the social unrest that led to the political as well as cultural demands for recognition of Cymric nationhood and autonomy--reminders that music does not always have to be explicitly topical to cause change in the wider society. The effect as a whole is not so much sounds you've never before heard, but the artists and label's right to simply convey the music they wanted to play in the language they wanted to sing.

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