Reviews

Jamie Smith's Mabon
Album: Windblown
Label: Easy On The Records
Tracks: 10
Website: http://www.jamiesmithsmabon.com

The frolicksome, full-of-energy combo Mabon was formed around y2k by the fantastic Welsh accordionist Jamie Smith and his father Derek, and spent the next decade carving a massive reputation as one of the most scintillating and well-rounded live acts around. Jamie's unbelievable skills as showman-performer and tunesmith have since expanded into songwriting too, and the release of Windblown, together with a concomitant expanded name-change for the band (and also coinciding with Derek's departure from the lineup), signals the first recorded fruit of this. Inevitably, it gives a whole new dimension to the already massively accomplished Mabon shenanigans (or whatever the equivalent be in Welsh!). I'm aware that there will be some listeners for whom any exclusively instrumental lineup, however brilliant, will be lacking; so these folks will definitely be bowled over by the new-look Mabon.

Four of the album's ten tracks are songs (now there's confidence for you!), and these range from the traditional-styled folk-fantasy tale Lady Of The Woods (which comes complete with catchy refrains), the gently wistful poetry of Summer's Lament and the more whimsical Yes We Sing Now to what must be regarded as one of the disc's highlights, Caru Pum Merch (which concerns the loving of the same woman through the five different stages of her life), incidentally the band's first ever Welsh language composition. All of these songs are solidly supported by the band's trademark full instrumental complement, with majestic arrangements centred on Jamie's lyrical piano accordion, Oli Wilson-Dickson's fiddle and Adam Rhodes' bouzouki and underpinned by the ever-inventive, sensitively driven rhythm section of Matt Downer and Iolo Whelan. Jamie proves himself a very capable singer, and all his colleagues bar Matt contribute effective backing vocals.

As for the instrumental cuts, well at the risk of underselling their quality, they're every bit as vital as you'll expect, displaying if anything even more assurance in the instrumental blend, whether on blistering outings like Huzzah!, The Gordano Ranter and the roof-raising finale (a perennial live-favourite set of reels now finally given the full studio treatment) or the quieter repose of the wedding waltz Gareth & Aoife's. And Tunnag's Tunes is a quintessentially tricky set composed in honour of Jamie's late cat (every band seems to find feline inspiration these days!). Also, finely judged and rich though the band texture is, the lads indulge themselves mildly on some of the sets by bringing in guest musicians, notably Tomás Callister on tenor banjo (and extra fiddle), Calum Stewart (on wooden flute) and Dylan Fowler (on lap steel and acoustic guitar),ensuring a constantly interesting palette with some intriguing touches.

For exuberance, panache and spontaneous musicianship, all carried out with a refreshingly mature restraint and within the context of necessarily skilful arrangement, it will be pretty hard to beat Jamie Smith's Mabon for impact.

David Kidman

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