For the second time in recent weeks, I have the pleasure of reporting on Germany’s unquenchable thirst for Scottish and Irish music. Probably the finest example of music produced in Germany and driven by these Celtic roots comes from Cara. With the release of their fifth studio album, Yet We Sing, Cara have built on their twelve years of writing and recording and performing. The band has strong Scottish connections, with Edinburgh pianist Kim Edgar in the line-up; Gudrun Walther joins Kim on lead vocals and also plays fiddle and diatonic accordion. Hendrik Morgenbrodt plays uilleann pipes and flutes; Jürgen Treyz guitars and dobro; with Rolf Wagels providing bodhrán.
The music itself comes from sources as varied as the band’s skilful approach. Their ability to entrance a live audience has led to a level of success that would be the envy of many home-grown musicians and regular, extensive tours not only in Germany but throughout Europe, the U.K. and the U.S.
At the forefront of Cara are the twin vocal and instrumental skills of Kim Edgar and Gudrun Walther. Both are also accomplished song writers, drawing on traditional inspiration but writing songs very much in a contemporary style: strong on emotion, story and poetry. Typical of this is Kim’s opening song for the album, A Leaf For A Sail. A dark yet heart-warming tale of a life not so much lost at sea, but surrendering itself, with courage, to the inevitable. The song was inspired by a trio of events, among them a fascinating ‘art-chain’ that began with seven artists in a sailing boat. Opening with a light piano and plaintive vocal then closing with soaring violin and woodwind, it’s an enchanting start to the album.
And now he is sailing in waters so rare
Afloat on the beautiful sea
And though we can’t see him
We know that he’s there
And one day we’ll all be so free
One day we’ll all be so free
The album includes new songs that are also collaborative efforts, and benefit from Kim, Gudrun and Jürgen’s joint creative input. Cain’s War canters along to Kim’s piano and Rolf Wagels’ bodhrán with Hendrik’s uilleann pipes in a plaintive refrain. Written by the band the day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the song references the violence that hides behind religious justification.
God’s armies are marching still
Brother, you shall die
Righteous and bold, commanded to kill
Under an empty sky
Anchor In The Sky cites more personal battles and uses the permanence of the North Star as a metaphor in a melodic and inspiring ode to guiding, dependable friendship.
Included in the album are markedly new approaches to two well-known traditional songs that further illustrate the ingenuity that’s characteristic of Cara’s achievements as a collaborative unit. Jürgen’s arrangement for Little Musgrave provides space for an enchanting, breathless vocal and an extended outing for Hendrik’s pipes. With such an impressive, dramatic and accomplished interpretation of this classic, you wonder why the band have shied away from it for so long. The less well-known Scottish ballad, The Elfin Night, arranged by Kim and Jürgen, provides a spell-binding and elegantly-paced taste of the supernatural.
Throughout their 12 years and 5 albums Cara have beguiled audiences on two fronts, though. In addition to their impeccably arranged and presented songs, they also excel as a vehicle for instrumental music based on traditional and collected reels, jigs and melodies. Fiddler / accordionist Gudrun Walther has written what, for me, is the stand-out instrumental track on the album – Land Of The Midnight Sun. The melody includes strong Scandinavian folk/classical influences, in a mediaeval dance wrought from a delicious cascading fiddle and subtle flute harmonies. There’s a delightful wee side excursion on piano, and pipes join in with some glorious harmonies toward the end.
One of Germany’s most sought-after and well-respected trad musicians, Gudrun also plays German traditional music together with Jürgen in ’Deitsch’. She’s been influenced by Irish trad music, though, from a very early age and this is reflected in her song writing and singing style.
There’s also a fine selection of thoroughly engaging and deftly performed tune sets, giving Yet We Sing its strongest flavour of the traditions that inspire the band. The three jigs collected for The Legend Of Lisalway draw on Irish and Breton sources for an enlivening outing with a light jazz flavour. Equally delightful is The Exploding Case – a sure-fire crowd pleaser. A complex and fiery duet with pipes and percussive guitar opens up to fiddle and accordion dancing their way to a thrilling multi-instrumental conclusion. Early on in the album, Gudrun’s set of four reels, Heroes, opens with a fiddle/pipe duet inspired by Henrik’s habit of seeing to the post-gig bar by himself and closes with a big finish in the very best style.
After training at the Munich Guitar Institute, Jürgen Treyz founded Artes Recording, where Cara record their music, and also performs alongside Gudrun in ’Deitsch’. His own instrumental contributions include the gentle Naked Man In The Whirlpool. Opening with duet for piano and dobro; accordion then flute, in turn, take up the soothing melody that provides space for quiet contemplation among the more lively dance sets, and pairs beautifully with his softly melancholy A Wee Dobro Tune. Scottishe Kerlou was written by flute player Calum Stewart and suggested for the album by Cara’s bodhrán meastro, Rolf Wagels. As well as being a founding member of German based bands Steampacket and DeReelium, Rolf is a much sought after bodhrán player in Ireland and in Europe. In Scottishe Kerlou dobro and accordion share the melody initially before the pipes join this light, merry dance.
The album’s title track, Yet We Sing, brings the album to a conclusion with a beautiful and uplifting piece of song-writing from Gudrun. A gentle song of parting, Yet We Sing is a positive song that reminds us to focus on what’s important, to grieve when we have to, and to let our hearts sing when we can. It’s difficult to imagine there will ever be a performance by Cara where the audience doesn’t join the chorus of this marvellous song.
There is pain, but there will always be laughter
We grieve and we rejoice
When the frost is over, a new spring is dawning
In darkness raise your voice
Yet We Sing is the delightful result of a detailed and organic process of writing, planning, arranging and recording that spanned 3/4 of the last year. With the band finding a new maturity as a creative unit, this is their first album where they’ve resisted the temptation to include guest musicians and have achieved the expansive sound the album enjoys with very little in the way of overdubs. It’s an album that combines the natural approach of the traditional artist with a contemporary approach to writing and arranging music. Yet We Sing is also an album that proves Cara can hold their heads high among the extensive family of tradition-based writers and performers. With a number of Scottish dates coming up in January, including two appearances at Celtic Connections, its release should see them expanding their already considerable UK audience.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Released 15th January 2016 via Artes Records
Order via: Cara Shop
Upcoming UK Tour Dates
24.01 – Glasgow, BBC Radio Scotland ‘Travelling Folk’
24.01 – Glasgow, Celtic Connections Festival Club
27.01 – Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall – Strathclyde Suite
28.01 – Inverness, Eden Court
29.01 – Dunfermline, Carnegie Hall
30.01 – Edinburgh, Edinburgh Queens Hall