The latest album from Jamie Smith’s MABON finds the band in playful mood, the album title, Windblown,lends itself to a cover shot of the band stood in a tunnel, bracing themselves against the wind, whirling autumn leaves all around them. This imagery links to the origins of the band’s name, Mabon, the Wiccan festival of the autumnal equinox and the intent of the music is to whip up a storm of sound. In JSM’s world autumn is only occasionally a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, most of the time think Atlantic hurricane season.
The 5 current band members have built their reputation on the sheer energy and virtuosity they bring to their live performances, captured on their previous album Live at the Grand Pavilion. For the new album they are back in the studio but, just to keep us on our toes, have recorded songs for the first time.
Jamie Smith, having long been the principal tune composer for the band has branched out into song writing, three of four vocal tracks having music and lyrics from him, the fourth, Caru Pum Merch, has lyrics in Welsh by drummer Iolo Whelan. Track 2, Lady of the Woods, is the first song, described as ‘a temptation-fuelled fantasy’. It is fast paced, driven along by an insistent drum beat, and ends with a lengthy and irritating dee-dee-da-da refrain. Not a good start but, thankfully, the remaining songs are far stronger. Summer’s Lament expresses the sadness of realising that autumn’s rain and leaf fall is leading inevitably to shorter and darker days and summer already seems a lifetime ago. Smith’s voice is gentle, very effectively supported by vocal harmonies and instrumentation. Caru Pum Merch translates as ‘Loving Five Girls’ but the song tells of loving the same woman at five stages of her life. I’m afraid my Teach Yourself Welsh wasn’t much help with the lyrics but the build and then fade of the melody and tempo across the nearly seven minutes of the song and the sometimes plaintive, sometimes urgent fiddle communicate effectively without the need of words. A memorable song.
The remaining instrumental tracks display the band’s trademark interweaving of different Celtic influences. One tune within The Joy of Lowenna set is tellingly titled A Costa De Criccieth as it introduces a distinctly Galician flavour with its muiñera style. Other influences abound, mainstream Celtic, of course, but the appearance of a mazurka rhythm gives a more Eastern European tinge in places. The final track Whiskey Burp Reels typifies the band’s approach to instrumental sets, building to a fast paced crescendo but with plenty of tempo changes and a few surprises en route. Link passages can sound as though the band is breaking into Shaft-style funk or 70s era prog rock before the reel structure reappears, inevitably at a faster pace. A fitting climax to a thoroughly enjoyable, highly varied album.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Fri 2 Nov NARBERTH, Queens Hall, 01834 869323
Sat 3 Nov LLANARMON D.C, Village Hall, 01691 600310
Sun 4 Nov CARDIFF (Album lau, Wales Millennium Centre, 029 2063 6464
Tue 6 Nov WORCESTER, Huntingdon Hall, 01905 611427
Wed 7 Nov LONDON, Slaughtered Lamb, 020 7253 1516
Thu 8 Nov BRISTOL, Colston Hall 2, 0117 922 3686
Fri 9 Nov FAREHAM, Ashcroft Arts Centre, 01329 223100
Sat 10 Nov NEW MILTON, Forest Arts Centre, 01425 612393
Sun 1 Dec SHEFFIELD, The Greystones, 0115 266 5599
Sun 2 Dec GATESHEAD, The Sage, 0191 443 4661
Wed 5 Dec HEREFORD, Courtyard Arts Centre, 01432 340555