Blodau Gwylltion : Llifo Fel Oed16.03.2018 : Gwymon CD025
Ten years ago I came across an early incarnation of 9Bach playing on a small stage at a festival in North East Wales - the start of a path listening to Welsh music, more recently marked out by the work of Bendith, Bob Delyn and Chris Jones, which has reset my view of contemporary folk as an art form. To that list I'd now add this stunning debut album from Blodau Gwylltion.
The duo responsible for it, singer Manon Steffan Ros and Elwyn Williams, have that same magic I heard in Llangollen a decade past - they effortlessly paint moving, rich emotional textures with simple instrumentation and voice.
There's a mix of folk and country influence informing Llifo Fel Oed, with ten of the eleven songs written by Manon, who is already an established writer and sister of singer-songwriter Lleuwen, The themes explored are intimate and fully earthed. All the songs are sung in Welsh; if you have no understanding of the language they still contain a rare beauty.
The album's title in English means 'Flows Like Age' and is derived from the final composition on it, Plant Bach, which is about how life and death are part of a cycle. To quote the end of Llifo Fel Oed press release: "we become our forefathers, and love and the land and the seas all flow like age". That sense of flux and renewal extends to the music. The set was recorded over several years at Stiwdio Iawn, Aberystwyth, but there is no stylistic dislocation in the sequence of tracks; the framing of Manon's vocal is always understated and refined. Uncluttered arrangements mean each song feels as if you are listening to it exactly as it was crafted.
To pick highlights from the whole seems churlish, but the traditional folk song that Manon learned from her mother - Ddoi Di Dei? - is truly hypnotic, whilst the plaintive love song Dwylo Iesu Grist ("You have such faithful eyes, like Jesus in stained glass") is as affecting as it was written to be.
At times Manon sings with a similar emotive almost-whisper to that perfected by Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins - evidenced on the stilling Nos Da, a quiet lullaby written for her sons, and Cân Mered, which is in effect a reverential musical memorial to folk song collector Meredydd Evans.
If you want to identify one keystone for the whole set, then Llyn Cwm Dulyn is a minimal piano and vocal delight; an atmosphere and meditative suggestion of a place of myths.
In many ways we have made bleak times for ourselves; good music distracts from this situation, but great music reminds us emotionally that we have been and can be something better. Llifo Fel Oed goes far beyond offering temporary diversion - it is a muted classic; an album of hushed tones, soft spoken wisdom, warmth and real enchantment.