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Gwyneth GlynGwyneth Glyn
Album: Tro
Label: Bendigedig
Tracks: 13

Here's another amazing discovery! Gwyneth's a poet, singer, songwriter and playwright whose feet are rooted deep in the earth of Eifionydd, north Wales, yet whose gaze is always drawn to distant horizons (saith her official biography…); she sees herself as "an artist-adventurer who thrives on experimenting with different forms". Hence her CV thus far, which includes theatre performance, singing with folk/Americana bands, writing for theatre and TV (and even enjoying a year-long tenure as Wales's Poet Laureate For Children) in addition to recording and releasing three solo albums in her own right between 2005 and 2011. In 2015 and 2016, she supported master Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita on his British tour. Early in 2016, she collaborated with Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar in Ghazalaw, an intriguing interweaving of Welsh folk tunes and verses with the Urdu love-poetry tradition of ghazal. Also that same year, Gwyneth worked on the Songs Of Separation project, performing in its special Cardiff concert (although not appearing on the project's subsequent CD). Then followed ventures into opera libretto and dance theatre.

Now Gwyneth encompasses all her recent influences and experiences in a new solo album of original songs that sees her take the album title Tro in one of its many literal senses, that of "turn" - ie. turning back to her Welsh roots in exquisite and enthralling journeys of the heart and soul. Fittingly, then, all but three of the album's 13 tracks are sung in Welsh; they naturally capitalise on the unique nuances and characteristics of a language which is often (quite unfairly) regarded as impenetrable - although it must be said that a detailed perusal of the lyrics and translations in the accompanying solid-state booklet will be considered essential for full appreciation of the very special poetic qualities of Gwyneth's writing (in either language).

The limpid, airy Vashti Bunyan-style exoticism of opening track Tanau (Fires), featuring the sound of Rowan Rheingans' bansitar, is succeeded by the more robust insomniac's ballad Cân y C?n (Song Of The Dogs) and the brooding, drum-propelled Cwlwm (Knot), the latter deploying Seckou's deft kora in counterpoint to Gwyneth's rhythmic panting vocalise. Then comes another interesting experiment, Ffair, which presents an ingenious translated and reworked take on She Moved Through The Fair sporting eerily atmospheric scoring in a gently (if ominously) drifting setting. This is followed by the first of the three Gwyneth Glyn originals sung in English - Dig Me A Hole - which has a spellbinding, almost traditional and distinctly spooky aura to clothe its celebration of love's defiance. The idea for Far Ago (deliciously sung to a beautiful Rowan banjo accompaniment) arose out of a Joni Mitchell quote, while What's A Girl To Do? is a succinct and intimate voicing of the simple truths of a close relationship - indeed, a kind of companion to Dan Dy Draed (Under Your Feet), which takes its cue from lines by W.B. Yeats in capturing the profound vulnerability and wonder of that relationship. The reflective Caerdyni is named after the hill leading out of Gwyneth's current home Cricieth, while Os Na Wela'i Di (If I Don't See You) also expresses the uniquely Welsh concept of hiraeth (loosely, a yearning or longing for a home place) but this time in direct remembrance of Gwyneth's dear departed grandfather. On Yr Gnawas (The Bitch), Gwyneth takes on the mantle of Katy Cruel in a defiant celebration of being true to oneself. Finally, the inspired, subliminally jazzy final track enterprisingly combines one of Seckou's compositions with a Welsh folk song, embracing recited as well as sung sections. As Gwyneth herself says, "When music bypasses the conscious mind and moves you on such a deep level, you really feel it." Amen to that!

Thus far, I've made only passing references to the delicately nuanced ancillary instrumentation that contains its own kind of poetry, brilliantly complementing Gwyneth's own vision; the man responsible for this is album producer Dylan Fowler, who not only plays a whole host of instruments himself (dobro, kantele, tabwrdd, mbira, mandocello, guitar and bass) but is also able to call on the talents of (among others) Patrick Rimes (violin), Gillian Stevens (viol and crwth), Mark O'Connor (percussion) and the aforementioned Rowan Rheingans and Seckou Keita. There's a spine-tinglingly high wow-factor at work here for sure.

Tro is "tro-mendous". It's nothing less than a profoundly enchanting, gently challenging yet immensely rewarding album, brilliantly packaged too. And it's assuredly destined for my best-of-year list.

David Kidman