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Rheingans Sisters Rheingans Sisters
Album: Bright Field
Label: Rootbeat
Tracks: 10

Life has been both kind and eventful for both of The Rheingans Sisters since the release of their award-winning November 2015 release Already Home. A hectic evening at the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards saw their Mackerel win the 'Best Original Track' Award, whilst they were also nominated in the 'Horizon' category for Best New Act. Whilst Anna continues to live and work in Toulouse as a musician and music teacher, Rowan has become one of the most sought after musicians on the folk and acoustic scene today, working with her trio Lady Maiserly, (including their role in Coven), appearing on Nancy Kerr's cutting edge Instar release, (plus allied Sweet Visitor touring band), and winning another BBC Radio Show Folk Award for 'Best Album of 2017' as part of the 'Songs Of Separation' project.

Time, and inspiration, has been found, however, for Bright Field, their third, and most reflective and personal release so far. The words to the track which also gives the album its title come from Welsh anglican priest and poet R.S.Thomas, and speaks to those shining moments in life, moments of beauty, naturalness, insight and vision.

Bright Field is an innovative, alluring and adventurous album, with, as on previous outings, Anna & Rowan playing a range of instruments, with a focus on fiddles and banjos, whilst the influences drawn from their vast, combined knowledge, and love, of traditional music are carefully woven into their own, thoughtful and beguiling compositions. The addition of occasional understated percussion, bass guitar and sonorous spoken voice, only add to the expansive nature of the record, which is The Rheingans Sisters' first collection of newly composed music, (Lo Segoner, their interpretation of a traditional Béarn region Branlé, notwithstanding).

Themes and motifs relating to the environment and nature permeate the ten tracks on this disc. The opening tune, Anna's Glattugla, is a sparse, almost minimalist piece inspired by the perils of the heavily iced and perpetually slippery pavements of a winter spent in Norway, whilst her glorious vocals on Appel, featuring Rowan on baritone banjo, encapsulates an immutable craving for alternative landscapes -
'Appelle-moi vers le sud
Le vent du nord va geler moi'

At close to six minutes in length, Rowan's This Forest, a song with a long view of human progress, set in the woods, with its cyclical, rhythmic violin, atmospheric flabuta and gorgeous vocal lines, appears somewhat dystopian -
'In my dreams I watched the forests lie
down dead and buried
Burnt alive they disappeared until the world was empty'
This Forest is, however, a truly arresting song that might just be up there with the very best heard this year.

A similarly pessimistic outlook is initially presented in Green Unstopping - an atmospheric and enchanting track with deftly changing time signatures telling of environmental catastrophe -
'Seas of plastic
Floating plasters
In every corner
Are our disasters'
before concluding with a glimmer of hope and optimism -
'Secret freedom
Relentless growing
Concrete pavements
with small shoots growing.'

The penultimate track, Edge Of the Field, with Rowan's plaintive vocals, over a minimal, but engaging, accompaniment is another stand-out piece, perfectly evoking a rural idyll
My saddle's sore my bridle's bent
My blinkers are cracked and broken
Take me to the edge of the field
Where I will see the ocean'

Not all tracks on the album feature lyrics; Bright Field, does also present several infectious instrumental tunes; Xavier's/The Honeybee are newly written, energetic bourées, whilst Dark Nights, a tune written waiting for the spring to reappear segues into Swinghorn, a fiddle song which brings the sunlight back, with the delicate Three Springs ending the release with a certain neatness of symmetry.

Bright Field is an album of beauty and delight; on occasion its lilting pastoral melodies inducing an ataraxy reminiscent of early Alain Stivell. For this reviewer it is their most accomplished work to date, breaking new ground that should not only please to those who are already converts, but surely widen their appeal to many more newcomers.

In the press release accompanying the album, Rowan states
'the whole album is an invitation for new stories to be told.'
Accept this invitation with open ears, and be prepared to be transported to an enchanted world.

David Pratt