When I first started doing the research as part of this review I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jamie Smith's Mabon have been around since 1999 and that The Space Between is their fifth album.
The first time I encountered the band was at The Royal Welsh Show when they were doing a live set on the BBC Radio Wales stand and I came away with a copy of their second CD, OK, Pewter. At that time the band was simply known as Mabon and played purely instrumental music.
2011 was a pivotal year in this already successful band's development with a name and line up change as well as the introduction of songs into their repertoire.
The first album to feature vocals was the 2012 release Windblown and this latest release follows a similar format, consisting of three songs, one in Welsh, and six tunes.The introduction of songs adds an extra dimension to their already excellent musical compositions.
The quality of this album is evident right from the off. The title track and album opener, The Space Between, is one of two Jamie Smith composed song on the CD and gives a thoughtful insight into the life of a touring musician and spending long periods separated from your loved ones. Jamie's other song on the CD, Returning From Where I've Never Been, sees him being unashamedly political, commenting on those whose opinions are informed by prejudice, ignorance and fear.
The final song on The Space Between is a beautiful Welsh poem by the band's drummer/percussionist, Iolo Whelan, set to Music by Jamie Smith. The song's title, Yr Ennydd, translates as The Moment and hints at the subject matter contained within the lyrics, that point where the interplay between love and lust that can change a brief encounter or fling forever from lusty flirtation into love and the forming relationship, with a caveat about getting what you wish for thrown in for good measure!
Jamie Smith's Mabon have always described their music as Inter-Celtic, inspired by and drawing on, the traditional styles of all the Celtic nations and it is in the instrumental tunes on The Space Between that these influences are really given their head. The structures and sounds of the Galician tradition are evident in 48 in Ortigua, a tune whose galloping finish is sure to please and perhaps finish off the frenetic dancers at the band's gigs. The Breton influence is evident in two paired tunes, Go Kemper! is an old dance tune dusted down and reworked for this album while Drum 'N' Breizh, featuring Jamie's Barrule bandmate Tomàs Callister on Banjo, is a fusion of driving percussion, synth, and '70s style syncopation with a distinctly Breton feel.
Croeso Ioan (Welcome John) has more Northern European overtones with Oli Wilson-Dickson's fiddle giving this tune a Nordic feel before Jamie Smith's accordion takes it across the North Sea to Northumbria.
Talking of Accordions, my highlight of The Space Between is a tune that highlights Jamie Smith's undoubted talents on this particular instrument. The band's 2004 album Ridiculous Thinkers featured a particularly technical piece entitled The Fiddlers Despair. Now Jamie Smith gets to showcase his talents on his instrument of choice in a composition entitled The Accordionists Despair, a similarly technical piece that I suspect only the best Accordionists will be able to master.
Lastly, an honourable mention must go to Frank's Reels, a set of four tunes written by Jamie Smith to mark the birth of his son.
Having built their reputation as an instrumental band, Jamie Smith's Mabon are now proving their worth as songwriters with the three intelligent and thoughtful songs on The Space Between providing a good counterpoint to the exuberance of the instrumental tracks. If you are already familiar with Jamie Smith's Mabon you will have a good idea what to expect from The Space Between, if you are new to the band then this CD is an ideal introduction to their music, either way you won't be disappointed. The Space Between builds on the solid foundations that Jamie Smith's Mabon laid down on Windblown and surely marks another step on the band's journey towards international recognition. This is an excellent release that will sit well in any collection.
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