Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog : IV2016 : Sbrigyn Ymborth
"Listening to new @CowboisRhB and revelling in a band who are all heart, music and life..." Adam Walton: BBC Radio Wales
The two most worn pieces of vinyl sat in my record boxes are Neil Young's peerless compilation Decade, with the drifting and expansive guitar, and lyrical pain, of Cortez the Killer at its heart, and the alt country folk of the Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session, in all its jaded reverence and quiet majesty.
The evident musical influences of their last two albums particularly would place the Llŷn Peninsula's Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog music somewhere between these two, and that is how my expectations were set approaching their new CD.
IV is their fourth album since they formed in 2006, with the third, the excellent Draw Dros y Mynydd, being nominated for the Welsh Music Prize in 2012. IV has been recorded over the last two years by brothers Iwan, Dafydd and Aled Hughes, joined by long-term cohorts Llyr Pari (Y Niwl, Gruff Rhys, Palenco, Jen Jeniro), Branwen Williams (Siddi, Candelas) and Euron Jones (Gai Toms, Maharishi, Bryn Fôn) and recorded at a number of studios across North West Wales: Tŷ Siamas, Stiwdio Sain, Stiwdio Melin y Coed (Llanrwst) as well as Aled's own in Bethesda
They have produced it themselves, as Aled explains, "Taking control ... allowed us more flexibilty and freedom than we have prevously had". They clearly acknowledge how much they have learnt from the producer of their last two albums, David Wrench, but their new approach has worked; every part of this album feels detailed and crafted. Added to this shades of Roxy Music and ABBA have edged in to compete with the folk and country of their last two releases, and the result is a more varied collection of songs and sounds.
IV opens with an unexpected short ambient instrumental Dienw, before a more familiar style asserts, with the yearning country rock of Lle'r Awn i Godi Hiraeth? It is the variety of what follows that then surprises: Mor Ddrwg â Hynny has a melodic pop sensibility, Y Lôn Sy'n Dân O'n Blaenau a pedal steel and country feel; Dwi'n 'nabod Y Ffordd At Harbwr has a sophisticated euro-pop sound; whilst Blodau Ar Dân Yn Sbaen is a quieter, emotive ballad.
Next Lôn Wrth Y Môr, keyboard driven and uplifting; then Deud Y Byddai'n Disgwyl is for me the stand out track - gentle with a soft, almost spoken vocal and a repeated short but memorable, mellow guitar and keyboard hook; it leads into the soothing instrumental Mewn Gorsaf (In Station).
The last song,Tyrd Olau Gwyn, is mournful at the start and suddenly shifts into an affecting, stirring, magnificent close.
They have produced an engrossing, varied but coherent work, that manages to remain genuine and rooted even when being more experimental. It is sung in Welsh throughout, but even if you have little practical understanding of the language, or can only pick out words and phrases, this is not a barrier, anymore so than it would prevent appreciation of, for example, the slow West African folk blues found on Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck's Djam Leelii, or closer to home, and much more recently, Aled Rheon's poised Welsh language debut Sêr yn Disgyn.
Over the last three albums Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog's best songs could sit between Decade and The Trinity Session without reproach, but in broadening their musical range they have produced their finest album yet: vibrant, inventive, alive and authentic.
[Buy IV: iTunes: £7.99 Digital or CD]
COWBOIS RHOS BOTWNNOG I Fall On My Knees [Bedroom Live | Ffresh Festival 2013]