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Alaw Alaw
Album: Dead Man's Dance
Label: Taith
Tracks: 11

For those of you who are not familiar with this trio, Alaw brings together three of the finest musicians in Wales today, fiddle player Oli Wilson-Dickson and accordionist Jamie Smith are perhaps better known as members of Jamie Smith's Mabon and here they are joined by acclaimed guitarist and producer Dylan Fowler.

Dead Man's Dance or Dawns Y Gwyr Marw, to give this release it's Welsh title, is Alaw's second full length CD, following on from their 2013's debut Melody. Like its predecessor, Dead Man's Dance is a collection of songs and tunes, both original and traditional sung in both Welsh and English, one major difference though, is the addition of guest vocalists Gwilym Bowen Rhys and Georgia Ruth to add a whole new dimension to the trio's sound.

Gwilym Bowen Rhys is one of the rising stars of the Welsh music scene and his vocal versatility is put to good use on the album. His first appearance is on a raucous and rousing Welsh language version of the sea shanty Santiana, a track that also features Carreg Lafar's Antwn Owen Hicks providing the distinctive sound of Galician bagpipes. Gwilym is also responsible for the vocals on one of the best versions of Lisa Lân that I have ever heard. This is a traditional Welsh song telling of a lover's heartbreak at the loss of the fair Lisa and ends with him asking her spirit to guide him to where she is so that they may be together in eternity. Alaw's arrangement and Gwilym's vocals combine to convey the song's meaning so effectively that you do not have to be a Welsh speaker to get the sense of loss and despair contained within this song.

Georgia Ruth is the other guest vocalist to appear on Dead Man's Dance. Another rising star of the Welsh folk scene, Georgia's beguiling and delicate voice is heard to best effect on Y G'Lomen, a song which conjures images of the titular Dove. Georgia also duets with Oli Wilson-Dickson on his composition Stones, a moving plea for tolerance and understanding based around the theme of Sticks and Stones. Oli's undoubted talents as a songwriter are also evident on two other songs on the album, Seven Stories draws, I suspect, on his experiences of working with story teller Daniel Morden to look at how stories call to us across the ages and to ask how they can help us in our modern lives. When Its Gone is a call not only to seize the moment and enjoy it before it passes but also to do what we can to ensure that our all too fragile natural wonders are still around for our descendants to enjoy.

One of the instrumental gems on Dead Man's Dance has the feel of a traditional Welsh tune but is in fact a new composition by Dylan Fowler. Iâr Fach Y Haf's melody effortlessly evokes summer in a riverside meadow or on the uplands with the Butterflies of the title fluttering on the warm breeze. Dylan is also the man behind the album's opening track, Dawns Soïg or Soïg's dance was written for the Breton guitarist Soïg Sibéril and is paired with the tune that gives the album its name to create an exuberant opening that showcases the individual talents of the members of Alaw and gives you a taste of what is to come.

In this very publication Dave Kidman described Alaw's debut release as a "joyful celebration of the unique brand of melody that characterises Welsh traditional music", a statement that is equally true of this release. In Dead Man's Dance, Oli, Jamie & Dylan have, with the added talents of Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Georgia Ruth, Antwn Owen-Hicks and Gillian Stevens, produced a CD that showcases the best of Welsh folk music both traditional and contemporary. For some reason, Welsh Folk Music does not have the level of recognition beyond its home borders that is enjoyed its Scots or Irish cousins, if there is any justice in the world, this album will prove to be a major step on the road to changing that perception. Long may Alaw continue to delight audiences with their infectious brand of Welsh Folk.

David Chamberlain