Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The 2000s: Favorite Prog Folk Releases

 Prog Folk, with its many guises, is probably my favorite sub-genre of Progressive Rock music. This is especially true with the marvelous interpretations and releases of this, the 21st Century. These are my favorite albums released during the decade of 2000 through 2009:



1. IONA Open Sky (2000) (Celtic Electric Folk/Prog Folk) is one of my favorite albums of the 21st Century and definitely my favorite album from Y2K. It is one of those collections of songs that I enjoy playing start to finish, though I do have my favorites ("Woven Chord," "Wave After Wave," "Castlerigg," and "Hinba"). Others have eluded to the fiery guitar soli, the driving drumming, the amazing interplay and interweaving of traditional Celtic instruments, the peaceful, sometimes-ambient lulls, and Joanne Hogg's voice. I am here to reiterate and reaffirm all of it. Plus, the song structures are so interesting and delightful. Take "Castlerigg" (a veritable prog masterpiece, IMHO): It begins sounding like a traditional Irish song bordering on New Age with flutes and heavenly background keys. The music puts you into an ancient wood, as if you are walking with a group on a hunting or reconnaissance party. Then at 1:20 an ominous drum, tambourine and bass thrum begins as a bagpipe seems to "walk into the song" as if another party?the traveling minstrel or bar?has just walked out from behind a rock escarpment, or from out of a cave, marching right into the majestic mellotron forest glen (sounding a lot like a Kate Bush song from The Dreaming). Then the minstrel stops, all ears turn to the soft 'responsorial' music of an acoustic guitar picker and his violin side-kick laying down the setting for Joanne to begin to whisper some unearthly and ever-so-powerful words of "light" and "memory" and "waves" until the intensity builds with Joanne's wordless keening at the 6:05 mark until an Enya-like pause at the 6:50 mark clears the glen for response of the flutes and bagpipes with a full accompaniment of a driving drums, bass and synths chords, building, building as the drums and cymbols crash and clang to a climax and finale. Masterful song construction, beautifully orchestrating the listeners' mood sways.

1. "Woven Cord" (9:29) is a powerful instrumental; great start to finish. (10/10)

2. "Wave After Wave" (6:17) puts on display a great complement of instruments helping to build around Joanne's powerful voice and catchy melody. (10/10)

3. "Open Sky" (5:42) is a soft, simpler song--mostly acoustic--with an odd Indian-sounding instrument (or two) but wonderful vocals and vocal harmonies. (7/10)

4. "Castlerigg" (9:28) (as above) is an absolutely amazing song that takes you on an amazing journey, start to finish. Incredible beauty and power. (10/10)

5. "A Million Stars" (3:22) is beautiful atmospheric song with solo violin accompanied by background synth wash. The melody is quite haunting--very Vaughan Williams-like. (10/10)

6. "Light Reflected" (5:13) is a song that begins by showcasing Joanne's extraordinarily sensitive, subtle voice talents. Nice fretless bass, background piano arpeggio melody. Nearing the three-and-a-half minute mark the song threatens to break into full power, more so at the 4:00, then finally does with an awesome electric guitar solo before falling back to the ambient sounds from the beginning. (8/10)

7. "Hinba" (4:59) another song with an odd Celtic/not-Celtic/World music feel to it. The violin sounds more like that of Shankar from Peter Gabriel's "Passion Sources." A rather straightforward 'rock' chorus is this song-full-of-subtleties's only 'flaw.' Great instrumentation in last two minutes. (9/10)

8, 9, 10. "Songs of Ascent (Parts 1, 2, & 3)" (7:59 + 9:07 + 4:55) What I used to think of as "The weakest part of the album because of their soft, 'going nowhere' feel," I have grown to really enjoy. The music takes me to beautiful places in (and out of) Nature. Nice sounds, very ambient. Not a lot of development or power; very little catchy melody making. This is more like movie soundtrack music (very pleasant, often beautiful, soundtrack music). Second half of "Part 2" is the best. "Part 3" is very folkie and has some nice Joanne vocal weaves and rocking climax. (Check out the electric guitar and Celtic flute duet/duel!) (8/10)

11. "Friendship's Door" (7:15) is most interesting for it's reiteration several of the album's previous themes (often in the background, as if listening to review tapes). The song itself is otherwise good if not very memorable. (7/10)

Aside from the album's weaknesses, it makes up for it in its unusual and distinctive sound. Truly something worth checking out for every proghead. After years of finding myself continually drawn back to this album--and the fact that Songs 8, 9, and 10, "Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1, 2, &3) have grown on me, I can declare that this has become one of those albums I will always carry with me.




2. ULVER Shadows of the Sun (2007) (Ambient/Electronic World Music) I'm going out on a limb here by posting Shadows of the Sun as a Prog Folk album but the sound, song structures, and instrument choices are, to my ears, so similar to those of DEAD CAN DANCE, ATARAXIA, PETER GABRIEL and other artists who have earned Gothic, Traditional and World folk music status that I could not deny it. Plus, it is an album who's message to humanity is so earthy and so important that I believe it needs wider exposure. 
     This happened to be my first Ulver album and it remains one of the best collections of songs, start to finish, from this, the 21st Century, that I have heard. And though this is a dark and pessimistic concept album, it does an amazing job of conveying the despair and hopelessness of our role as perpetrators and victims of planet Earth's demise. The use of piano, tympanic drums, Oslo Session String Quartet, deep breathy vocals, synthesizers and even trumpet and theremin all help to impart the heavy, tragic mood ever-so exquisitely, even beautifully, if that is possible. I am ever awed by the wonderfully unexpected and subtle turns and twists within each and every song--including the "extra" 2 minutes of recorded silence at the end of the album's last song (after the world and/or life on the planet has been extinguished). Though an inattentive listen may leave the listener thinking the album is just one song and one mood, the attentive head-phoned listener is privy to a very artful and intimate experience.
     The first song, "EOS," sucks you into the album experience like light into a blackhole, the other songs entertain as you fall in ("All The Love," "Let the Children Go"), as light begins to fade, and the last song, "Whatever Happened?" spits you out on the other side, into a fresh, new universe. A lot to ponder; a lot of responsibility in the album's message. A fantastic album. Definitely a classic of our time, for the ages; a masterpiece. One of my two favorite albums from 2007.
     Including this album among a list of "Favorite Prog Folk Albums" may seem to some to be a bit of a stretch as most people consider this a Post Rock/Math Rock album, but, to my ears, the simple song structures using a small sample of instruments mixed with Garm's Earthy voice and heavily Earth-centric message here all lend to its being a collection of music founded in folk traditions. Not unlike DEAD CAN DANCE and ATARAXIA. 




3. FAUN Renaissance (2005) (Electrified Pagan World Folk) on this their third major album release, FAUN puts on display their continued experimentation with electronic support to the moods of their medieval and Gothic-tinged story telling. This seems to be the directional flow that Germany's prog folk masters have chosen since their more acoustic start on 2002's Zaubersprüche. What is especially impressive with this group's evolution is the serious way in which the band has researched and reinterpreted folk songs and stories from a wide variety of cultures. In fact, on Renaissance you will find lyrics being sung in Portugese, Lithuanian, Romanian, Spanish, and Yoruba--as well as in variations/dialects of their own native German. Amazing!

1. "Satyros" (3:34) The album opens with a very festive yet sacred sounds of multiple female voices harmonizing in Renaissance/mediæval fashion over some hard driving hand percussion and fast moving "ancient" instrumentation. (10/10)

2. "Da Que Deus" (3:54) opens with similarly layered harmonies of multiple female voices but moving at a bit slower a pace than the album opener. Nice recorder and harp solos are given space between the vocal sections. (10/10)

3. "Tagelied" (5:01) opens with strummed lute and deep heart-beat thrum drum establishing a deep penetrating effect before the male lead vocal enters with female background vocal support coming from far back in the mix. There is an ominous, almost scary feeling conveyed through the music and singing of this song. Beautiful wooden flute solos are interspersed between the vocal sections. A brilliantly constructed song. (10/10)

4. "Rhiannon" (3:31) is an instrumental reel that opens with some treated/synthesized and acoustic hand percussives weaving together with bagpipe, bazooka, and other instruments all moving together at breakneck speed. (9/10)

5. "Sirena" (5:11) opens with some sequenced rhythms playing quietly, well behind the harmonized vocal "ooooo-aahhs." The Arabian-tinged droning medieval troubadour music that develops would probably be better were I to have an understanding of the lyrics. (8/10)

6. "Königen" (6:25) opens with some Arabian-sounding female voice panning around in the far background as arpeggiated harp plays in the foreground. Set to a slow tempo of computer-sequenced electronic drums and hi-hat, a single female voice enters to carry the lyric over a beautiful, rather simple melody line. Very little embellishments to the vocals or recorder solis. Pure and simple, the story must be quite powerful in order to have been given this very simple arrangement. Again, I wish I knew the language so I could better appreciate the story of the Kings. Lovely song! (9/10)

7. "Iyansa" (4:51) is another droning simple piece with mostly solo female voice singing the lyric. Hypnotic. (9/10)

8. "Rosmarin" (6:45) returns to the more woven textures of the earlier songs, including the vocals, which start out with just Oliver singing but soon add the female harmonies (interestingly, in a lower register!) Hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, bagpipes, and hand bells and shells weave nicely to form a solid support for the vocals and in-between soli, until at the four minute mark everybody stops and a series of synthetic sounds take over in a quiet interlude before percussive and single-note instruments are slowly added back into the mix. At 5:40 an electric guitar power chord surprises and is repeated every few seconds to the end of the song as a single voice whispers repeatedly "es come der tar" or something like that. Wow! What a surprise! Awesome song! (10/10)

9. "Das Tor" (8:13) opens with another deeply ominous electronic background industrial drone as a crazed female voice hums a simple nursery rhyme melody in the middle ground. Lisa takes up a simple melody alone for the first verse and then is joined by another female voice and some other instrumentation (violin, flutes, hand drums, electronic drums, harp). The song builds and builds, slowly but ever so powerfully, resolutely. Even the vocals begin to climb the ladder of octaves as the foundational rhythms and weaves plod along insistently, unrelentingly, beautifully. By the sixth minute the song is devolving into the opening mix, with those eery hums and now laughing children's voices carrying forward the disturbing feeling of this song. Incredible song. Incredible. (10/10)

FAUN here show their continued and increasing experiments with inputs from computer and electronic-generated support as contributed by electronic expert, Neil Mitra. For the most part it works--especially as a complement or takeover for the rhythm section. Oliver, Fiona and Rüdiger's contributions on ancient traditional instruments are virtuosic yet restrained and never overbearing--which puts a nice focus on the vocals of which the gorgeous voice of Lisa Pawelke seems to have taken greater prominence. I have to say that, so far, every FAUN album seems to be better than the previous one. (Too bad Totem did not continue this trend.) This album may be better than 2011's Eden but it has not yet won my heart to the extent that Eden has. It may be the warm intimacy the listener experiences from Eden's due to its engineering and production. Plus Eden's packaging is so full and engaging.




4. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples

This is the third of RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval folk fashioned music presentations. This album sees a definite step forward in the compositions' leanings toward folk and medieval music and away from straightforward neoclassical music. For me, this pays off with The Stones of Naples feeling like the most accessible and most enjoyable Corde Oblique album yet. Plus, The Stones of Naples enjoys the benefit of vocal contributions of no less than six woman, each of outstanding voice, including: Caterina Pontrandolfo (familiar to us from the previous album, Volontrà d'arte) on songs 1, 6 and 10; Floriana Cangiano on songs 2 and 9; Claudia Sorvillo on songs 4 and 11, Monica Pinto, Geraldine Le Cocq and Alessandra Santovito on songs 7, 5, and 3, respectively.

     Because of this last fact, I will add that more than either of Riccardo's previous two Corde Oblique albums, this one is much more song/ballad oriented. You have to travel eight songs into the album before you get to an instrumental, and, again, unlike the previous albums, this one has much more of a medieval folk feel to it. This album contains songs of such consistently high standards that are all so enjoyable that I prefer to not single out any songs that I like more than any others (though, between you and me, I find myself swooning with absolute bliss during this string of five songs: "Flower Bud," "Flying," "Like an Ancient Black and White Movie," "La città dagli occhi neri," and "Nostalgica avanguardia"). Let's just say from the album's opening notes and song to its last you are in for a real treat.

1. "La quinta ricerca" (3:13) opens the album with Riccardo's lute serving notice that this is going to be music that feels like it comes from five hundred years ago. When sublime singer Caterina Pontrandolfo joins in with the accompaniment some other medieval instrumental accompanying her the ancient resolve is affirmed. An orchestral finale is unexpected but wonderful. (10/10)

2. "Venti di sale" (5:29) is opened with solo grand piano for the first minute--laying down some gorgeous introductory work--before vocalist Floriana Cangiano and a full force folk ensemble rush into the void with some quite dynamically diverse music--both acoustic guitars, violin, and hand percussion, and modern (fretless bass and drums). Lacking a memorable melodic hook to make this total ear candy. (9/10) 

3. "Flower Bud" (5:46) a stunningly gorgeous song with just the music but then you add the incredibly sensitive vocal of Alessandra Santovito (in English!) and you get bliss, utter bliss. The start of that string of five songs of Olympian perfection. (10/10)  

4. "Flying" (5:44) is a gorgeous remake of an ANATHEMA song (from 2003's A Natural Disaster), with the crystalline pipes of Claudia Sorvillo delivering the vocal--though she is later beautifully doubled (by another vocalist?). The rock drumming and piccolo-like arpeggio notes from the classical guitar in the final minute and a half are sublime! (10/10)

5. "Like An Ancient Black & White Movie" (2:10) opens with delicate piano, strings and Riccardo's classical guitar setting up a dreamy mood for yet another stunning vocal (the third one in a row in English!) this time by the ethereal KATE BUSH-like voice of Geraldine Le Cocq. (10/10) 

6. "La Città Dagli Occhi Neri" (5:44). Caterina Pontrandolfo, voice of the opener, returns to sing this one in Italian, accompanied by Riccardo's lute and bass. Though it feels like she is singing in a relaxed, even lazy fashion, her slight rasp and gently trilling vibrato are sheer perfection here. Drums and rock instruments join in for the final 1:10 as Caterina sings some non-lexical vocables with the violin. (10/10) 

7. "Nostalgica Avanguardia" (5:14) a gentle, almost religious-feeling song as sung by Monica Pinto in Italian. The music becomes almost Gypsy fast while Monica continues to sing with what feels like respect and reverence. (9/10)

8. "The Quality Of Silence" (1:48) is a nice little instrumental duet between Riccardo and pianist Luigi Rubino. (8/10)

9. "Barrio Gotico" (7:16) sees the return of Floriana Cangiano to the vocal mic as Riccardo and a simple Spanish folk ensemble supports. Riccardo on guitar, hand percussionist Michele Maione also on board. Well performed but a little long-winded and monotonous--though the final two minutes sounds like primo soundtrack music to a classic Italian Spaghetti Western. (8/10)

10. "Dal Castello Di Avella" (3:58) Caterina Pontrandolfo retirns to the vocal helm for the third and final time with a song brimming with feelings of love and nostalgia. This woman could sing anyone into peace, calm, and, dare I say it, love. The spiritual intentions behind her singing remind me of American spiritual singer, SHAINA NOLL. An eminently simple song--just Caterina and Riccardo--but one that comes across as utter perfection! (10/10)

11. "La Gente Che Resta" (3:24) opens with solo clarinet before a fully-scored folk troupe gather behind him in support of another Claudia Sorvillo vocal effort. The clarinet interplay behind and with the vocal is quite magical but the song lacks any memorable melodies. (8/10)

12. "Piscina Mirabilis" (2:56) is a nice little solo classical guitar piece from Riccardo to close out the album. Nice. (9/10) 

92.50 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock (folk) music.




5. MEDIÆVAL BÆBES Mirabilis (2005) The Mediaeval Baebes are an all female Renaissance/folk vocal group whose members fluctuate from album to album, and song to song. I include Mirabilis in the realm of progressive folk because the vocal arrangements and song choices are so sophisticated and so well engineered with lots of interesting modern recording effects and techniques, and because the supporting cast of 'medieval' folk instrumentalists are of such high caliber. Some of the instruments accompanying the vocalists include: glockenspiel, harmonium, concertina, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer, zither, cittern (lute), baglama (saz), oud, violin, viola, cello, double bass, finger cymbals, tabla, psaltry, sitar, chanter, trumpet, saxophone, autoharp, mellotron, piano, and multiple size recorders. Mirabilis is a mesmerizing, fascinating listen with diverse, virtuosic performances from start to finish.

1. "Star of the Sea" (3:32) let's you know what you're in for from the beginning. Recorders, lutes, had percussives and a full choral vocal presentation. (9/10)

2. "Trovommi Amor" (4:39). A song that fails to really get up and go anywhere despite the slow build of harmonized voices and instruments. (8/10)

3. "Temptasyon" (3:20) begins as a delicate solo with solo acoustic guitar accompaniment before the full choir takes over and seduces us into blissful supplication. (9/10).

4. "San'c fuy belha ne Prezada" (1:36) is a spectacular solo voice performance with (9/10).

5. "All for Love of One" (3:39). Simple but gorgeous. (10/10)

6. "The Lament" (3:27). Lackluster vocals brings down some extraordinary instrumental performances. (7/10)

7. "Musa venit Carmine" (3:27). Amazing arrangement of myriad vocal layers all performed over an ensemble of hand percussives. (10/10)

8. "Kilmeny" (3:59). Another unexpected and beautiful arrangement of layers of vocals and wonderful Renaissance instrumentation. (9/10)

9. "Lhiannan Shee" (2:56). One of the group's signature eerie yet mesmerizing vocal arrangements. The vocals waft and wave like the sea and its waves. (9/10)

10. "Umlahi" (2:15). Beautiful, church-like vocal arrangement, almost a cappella (finger cymbols). (10/10)

11. "Cittern Segue" (0:52). A brief solo instrumental that feeds into:

12. "Return of the Birds" (3:45). a very upbeat dance-like medieval song sung in ensemble form in a foreign language. (Latin?) (8/10)

13. "Tam Lin" (4:24). An incredibly stripped down and eerie version of this traditional Celtic folk song. The few and seldom modern effects and incidentals add immeasurably to the eeriness of this song. (10/10)

14. "Scarborough Fayre" (3:24). Yes, the same one we're all familiar with (thanks to Simon and Garfunkle) only arranged in a truer-to-traditional medieval folk 'dance' tune. (8/10)

15. "Come My Sweet" (3:21). An upbeat ensemble piece that builds as it goes along. (10/10)

16. "Märk Hure Vår Skugga" (3:43) is a traditional Scandinavian folk song performed in a very delicate, bare-bones style. (10/10)

17. "This World Fareth as a Fantasye" (4:08) is a beautiful sing-a-long dance to Nature song with wonderfully uplifting instrumental performances and sultry, siren-like vocal performances. (10/10)

18. "Away" (2:20) ends the album with a very classical Palestrina-like sound. (8/10)

Without a question one of the finest, purest examples of prog folk that exists. 




6. ESPERS II

The Pennsylvania-based Prog Folk band led by Greg Weeks and singer Meg Baird release their second album. With II the trio is "officially" expanded to a sextet.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Greg Weeks / performer, vocals, producer
- Meg Baird / performer, vocals
- Brooke Sietinsons / performer
- Helena Espvall / performer
- Otto Hauser / performer
- Chris Smith / performer
With:
- Laura Baird / flute
- Gary Olsen / performer
- Jesse Sparhawk / performer
- Lord Whimsey / performer
- Paul Sommerstein / performer
- Willie Lane / performer 

Instrumentation:
6- & 12-string acoustic guitars, Fender Jazz Bass, cello, recorder, flute, sleigh bells, gongs, bells, '78 Les Paul Custom, Space Echo, Echoplex, Crumar Toccata, Crumar Performer, Univox Mini-Korg, dulcimer, Arp Odyssey, Omnichord, Doric transistorised organ, singing bowels, drum kit, doumbek, dholak, bongos, Crybaby, Blue Box, Big Muff (Russian), and Fuzzrite.

1. "Dead Queen" (8:13) eerie space notes drop like water droplets before a "Stairway to Heaven"-like guitar enters at the end of the first minute. Multiple voices singing in amazing harmony weave enter at 1:35. The verses are very slow and methodic like one of MEDIÆVAL BÆBES' slower, more delicate songs. Violin and fuzzy electric guitar duet in the instrumental section, left and right channels, respectively, before recorder-like stringed instrument instrument joins in the left (and continues playing harmonics beneath the next vocal verse and successive instrumental section). A whole mess of odd instruments (see "Instrumentation" list) join in to create quite an unusual sonic landscape through to the ending fadeout. (13.5/15)

2. "Widow's Weed" (6:51) raw electric guitar dominating the acoustic instruments at work in the wings, this is dark music rises and falls over three minutes before "settling" down to a slower, more spacious soundscape in which Meg sings in a dreamy-downer voice. (13/15) 

3. "Cruel Storm (5:17) a bluesy base with acoustic instruments, electric bass and electric guitar, precedes the entrance of the amazing voice of Meg Baird. This sounds like a song from 1970-71--from the likes of GAY WOODS or Maddy Prior from The Woods Band, BARBARA GASKIN (Spirogyra), or even Judy Dyble, Jacqui McShee, or Sandy Denny. A simple song but astonishingly beautiful. (9.5/10)

4. "Children Of Stone" (8:54) opens with a more traditional folk rock instrument palette, including drums and bass, before male-and female chorus of voices enter in a gorgeous wave of woven harmonies. Flute and picked guitars create a bit of "I Talk to the Wind" sound/feel in the third minute and carry it forward beneath the next verse of vocal weave. AT 3:05, after the end of the second verse, an eerie old synth screams single notes portamento-style until 4:10 when the next vocal verse begins. In the sixth minute a couple voices take the lead while a very low synth portamento note counterposes, singing in a foreign language. Other instruments--including beautiful solo vocalise threads--join in and build a fairly thick soundscape--though all and every instrument and voice somehow remain distinct and distinguished. Very cool, beautiful, and memorable song. (18.5/20) 

5. "Mansfield And Cyclops" (5:57) another gorgeous song that sounds like it came from 1971 with another incredible vocal from Meg. The difference between this and "Cruel Storm" is that the instruments' contributions are significantly more enriching and noteworthy: drums, multiple guitars, and other stringed instruments. This feels like it could come from a TIRILL MOHN album. (10/10) 
6. "Dead King" (8:02) guitars, hand percussives, strings, and flute open this one before Meg enters and sings an English-style folk ballad. There is an odd "organ" and "synthesizer" as well as some background vocal help. This one drags a bit and is more interesting from the instrumental perspective than the vocal or lyrical presentation--especially as it moves into the middle when creepy, eerie, even scary sound embellishments take over. (13/15)

7. "Moon Occults The Sun" (6:47) opens simply, weaving several traditional folk instruments together, before cello and drums enter and move the music into a more forward direction. Around the one-minute mark a male vocal enters in the lead department (with some far background support from Meg). The active drums and cello make for some interesting bridges between the verses until the three-minute mark when another strange fuzz-embellishment to an electric guitar teams up with a different sustain-prone guitar to give us a very interesting, beautiful weave. This goes on for a full two minutes (of prog bliss) while the band jams beneath. Cool! Things calm back down for the final minute and the final vocal verses. (13.75/15) 

Total time 50:01

91.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a veritable modern masterpiece of refreshing Prog Folk; definitely an essential addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




7. VOX VULGARIS The Shape of Medieval Music to Come (2003) (Neo-Medieval Folk) Woodwind artist Rasmus Fleischer is a serious student of baroque and medieval music and it shows in this outstanding instrumental album, but be prepared for the most authentic recently-composed period music you may ever hear. As was true of the traditions of the times, the melodies and structures are very repetitive and rigid but that is part of the album's charm: you think you're hearing modern performances of long lost music--performed, of course, on period instruments.

 1. "Stella Splendens" (7:51) (9/10); 2. "Rokatanc" (3:54) (9/10); 5. "Cantiga 166" (5:13) (10/10); "La Suite Meurtriere" (4:27) (9/10);




8. FAUN Licht (2003) (Pagan Folk) is Germany's Prog Folk masters' second major release and quite a step forward from Zaubersprüche in that the band loosens up a bit and diverges and varies its path from straightforward Renaissance Faire music. The album shows the band putting their instrumental chops on full display from the get-go:  the first two songs are instrumentals with 2. "Andro" (3:45) using a metronomic stroke from its to really amp things up. This is a kick ass grooving, jam song. (10/10)

3. "Unda" uses some great lute, hand drums and hurry gurdy to support the recorder, voices, and bagpipes which alternate for the front and center melody holder. (9/10)

4. "Von den Elben" opens with harp and berimbao playing support for the lilting voice of first one and later, with the help of the lute and hand drums, a second female voice. Wonderful performance by the lead voice (Elisabeth?). (9/10)

5. "Ne Aludj El" has a bit of a Gypsy/Moorish sound to it despite using pretty much the same instruments as above. Upbeat and festive tune. (8/10)

6. "Deva" is just a -supported wordless vocal dirge.

7. "Punagra" (4:41) opens with some group chanting of the title before some wonderful upper register penny whistle work takes over the show. Later a balalaika solo takes center stage. Awesome percussion support on this one. Interesting key change with a little over a minute left--which, along with the chalumeaux (reeded recorder that is the predecessor to the clarinet) gives the music a bit of a Middle eastern flavor. (9/10)

 8. "Wind & Geige" (5:05) is a fairly simple, repetitive foundation for "geige" (violin) and whistle solos to be showcased between fairly brief lyric sections sung by the two women in harmony. (8/10)

9. "Isis" (5:40) opens with a male voice reciting some spell or invocation before the same balalaika chord progression from the last song fades in to support the singing of a quite extraordinarily beautiful male voice (which kind of reminds me of Mariuz Duda's gentle upper register). Giege and harp slowly join in support of this singer. If my German were better, this lovely song might not seem so long and soporific. (9/10)

10. "Cernunnos" (5:02) is the odd duck on this album for its long narration from a male voice (Christian von Aster). Again, not knowing enough German, the significance is lost on me. Plus the musical support consists of only drums. Probably a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm.

11. "Egil Saga" (5:10) opens with some kind of synthesized percussives in support of a single female voice. I swear these sounds goes straight back to 1980s New Wave--of which the German scene was quite advanced. (Think Bauhaus, Schilling, Nena, and Yello.) A little weird--especially for a folk song! (7/10)

12. "Fort" (3:54) is a beautiful folk song in the "Scarborough Faire" tradition with some awesome Celtic harp playing and nice three part vocal harmonies throughout. A nice high note to end the album. (9/10)

I have reconsidered my rating of this album due to it's rather narrow instrumental variation and its two rather weak songs ("Cernunnos" and "Egil saga"). Yes, wind & violin player Fiona Rüggeberg is wonderful, as are percussionist Rüduger Maul and strings player Oliver Sa Tyr. And, while this is a step forward for the band, there are great things to come!      




9. IONA The Circling Hour (2006) (Celtic Prog Folk) Any Iona album is worth owning and listening to regularly--even the most recent, more-overtly and heavily Christian, Another RealmThe Circling Hour is no exception. Coming right on the heels of guitarist DAVE BAINBRIDGE's IONA-collaborated "solo" effort, Veil of Gossamer, and six years since the last studio album--the supreme achievement that is Open Sky--2006 finds the band still in great form.

Song favorites: "Sky Maps" (6:43) (10/10), "Empyream Dawn" (7:50) (9/10) and the three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite (10/10).

While this album doesn't have quite the staying power of Open Sky (to their credit:  not many albums do), it is still an amazing display of prog folk mastery. Iona is a band that has few equals in 21st Century prog world.

90.90 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of Prog Folk and a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music in general.




10. SEVEN REIZH Strinkadenn Ys (2001) (Prog Folk) Not quite the polished masterpiece that the few reviewers on PA have raved about, this one reminds me, qualitatively, of CIRRUS BAY's Stepping into Elsewhere in that there are some brilliant ideas, brilliant melodies, but not quite developed as far as could be taken. To be sure there are many absolutely breathtaking passages, but they often come over the top of rather banal, straightforward passages of rock chord progressions or steady backbeats (I hear a lot of GENESIS' ABACAB throughout this album's longer, rockier songs) over which the soli are then performed. The vocals and keys and folkier, 'non-rock' instruments are superb. The IONA, SALLY & MIKE OLDFIELD, XII ALFONSO and ALAN STIVELL--and even ENYA and CLANNAD--comparisons are quite understandable. I'd add not only GENESIS (big time!) but DUNWICH and even SURVIVOR. I consider all of the album's songs to be of at least 4 star quality (though the "ABACAB" similarities of "Mall eo monet de YS" are a bit too striking for my tolerance), with no less than seven songs earning 5 stars, but the album has too many spots of what I'll call 'simplicity' for me to give it an overall 5 star "masterpiece" rating. The stretch of diverse masterpieces that flow from "Hybr'Ys" (9:15) (10/10) (Link to live version here), through the sublime instrumental "Kan KêrYs" (6:14) (8/10) the amazing eery Arab-sounding "Liñvadenn" (5:16) (9/10) (concert version here), the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS-like "Tad ha Mamm" (8:44) (8/10) and the gorgeous, gorgeous "Enora ha Maël" (4:40) (10/10) are what make prog so special! Perfect captivation of the gambit of emotions of the human experience. A beautiful album that I highly recommend--especially for those who love melody and subtlety.




11. ANTHONY PHILLIPS Field Day (2005) (Solo Instrumental Acoustic Guitar) is a collection of 36 songs on 2 CDs that Ant felt he had to get out of his brain--some old, some newly conceived--all played on guitars from Ant's personal collection. the most interesting thing about this collection of brief very catchy instrumental songs is that Ant hadn't played guitar for years! He's made quite a career of composing and playing keyboard-based soundtrack music for television and film. Still, one of the premier recorded masters of the 12-string guitar it is a treasurable experience to have 36 new pieces of his performed on his diverse collection of 12-string and six-string guitars and other instruments of the lute family. As always, titles and unpredictable melodic and tempo shifts are ever-present in these works. Recording and flow is wonderful, with the synth-backed first and last songs providing perfect bookends for the otherwise all-acoustic guitar performed album. One of the best representations of the genius that is Anthony Phillips. Highly recommended. Try these samples:  "Nocturne" (3:47); "High Fives" (1:53); "Steps Retraced" (4:11); "Credo" (1:55); "Bel Ami" (2:03), and: "River of Life" (3:24) (a cover version).





12. MIDLAKE The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006) (Eclectic Folk)

A brilliant album of quite intricate and subtly constructed songs. A songwriting style that seems common to many Midlake songs is used to great success here: that is the process of slowly adding an assortment of instruments to flit and playfully dance around the lead vocal. Quite remarkable and endearing.

1. Fan favorite "Roscoe" (4:49) is not one of my personal favorites. (8/10)

2. "Bandits" (4:04) is a multi-dimensional, multi-part song that really displays a lust for story telling through the music as well as through the lyric. Quite an intricate display of composition and performance. One of the album's best. (9/10)

3. "Head Home" (5:45) contains some of my favorite vocal arrangements that I've heard in a long time--with quite daring and unexpected changes in direction and melody. (9/10)

4. "Van Occupanther" (3:15) is augmented by some stunningly delightful flute and woodwind play thorough out the song--brilliantly offsetting the flat-toned lead vocal. It's as if the vocal is the foundation and everybody else is dancing playfully around him. Amazing! My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

5. "Young Bride" (4:56) is a brilliant song in the vein of RODDY FRAME/AZTEC CAMERA and ARCADE FIRE. Another favorite. (10/10)

6. "Branches" (5:03) slows things down and gets a little bogged down in the syrup of the lyric & lead vocal. Nice piano work and song shifts. (8/10)

7. "In This Camp" (5:44) sees Tim Smith singing in that FLEET FOXES style upper register. Again nice piano support and subtle incidentals before the song crashes into the eminently cathy chorus melody. (9/10)

8. "We Gathered in Spring" (3:33) sees the band singing in some of the tightest, most even harmonies--CROSBY, STILLS & NASH and AMERICA-like. Beautiful. (9/10)

9. "It Covers the Hillsides" (3:14) is upbeat and bouncy in a MAMAS & THE PAPAS/JOHN SEBASTIAN way. (8/10)

10. "Chasing After Deer" (2:42) is another delicately embellished song--subtle instrumental touches gathering around the solid, beautifully sung lead vocal. (8/10)

11. "You Never Arrived" (1:39) (8/10)

An imaginative display of thoughtful, playful, yet beautifully executed song craftsmanship.




13. CORDE OBLIQUE Volontà d'arte (2007) (Neo-Mediæval Folk/Neo-classical)is Riccardo Prencipe's second release of neo-medieval folk music under the title Corde Oblique. As on the debut Respici, Riccardo surrounds himself with collaborators who are up to his vision and standards. I love the consistently high quality of composition and performance on this album. I am, however, biased toward the less-classical- and more medieval folk-orientation of two of Riccardo's future albums, 2009's exquisite The Stones of Naples and 2011's wonderful Hail of Bitter Almonds.

Album standouts include:  the very Spanish-, almost GIPSY KINGS-sounding 1. "Cantastorie" (4:15) with the crystalline voice of Caterina Pontrandolfo (9/10); the medieval sounding 2. "Amphitheatrum Puteolanum" (4:29) despite Ms. Pontrandolfo's voice being treated with reverb (9/10); 3. "Casa Hirta" (9/10); the special piano-guitar duet on 4. "Before Utrecht" (5:44) (9/10); 5. "Atheistic Woman" (4:53) with its quirky, almost LEONARD COHEN vocal (9/10); the ANTHONY PHILLIPS-like solo guitar 9. "Pannegio" (2:42) (9/10); 10. "Cuma" (5:28) with singer Claudia Florio and her gorgeous operatic voice (8/10); the pretty piano suite "La Pioggia sui Tasti" (3:03) (8/10), and; the beautiful, more classically arranged "Piazza Armerina" (5:16) with guitar and clarinet (9/10). 




14. AMAROK Quentadharken (2004) (Folk-Jazz Fusion) is a well-crafted folk-jazz album by Spanish musicians. The recording sounds a bit as if it were recorded live in a small club--especially the thin-tinny drums. This is, however, the album's weak point: It doesn't really feel like a studio album. Still, the performances are wonderful; the group definitely has a polished, well-rehearsed sound to it--a sound that is at times 1960/70s jazz (think early FERMATA and SANTANA), at others Middle Ages troubadour music (even Gypsy or Arabic), sometimes even Celtic. Sometimes Amarok's music is sax driven, others piano, others guitar, others saxophone, often organ, and still others driven by synthesizer or its sultry female vocalist. Variety and diversity are never lacking here! The music crosses and blends so many time periods, so many cultural lines, as to be often breathtaking, and always unusual and unexpected. All of the music could survive without the presence of the vocals and be just fine.

Album highlights: the work of the bass and woodwind players; the guitar and keyboard work; the interesting symphonic and deeply layered song constructs. 

Favorite songs: the 'medieval jazz'y "Encantamiento" (2:56) (9/10); the KING CRIMSON-plays-French-MIKE OLDFIELD-like epic, "Tierra Boreal" (9:02) (9/10); the gorgeous vocal on the GENESIS 'medieval Arabic,' "La Espiral" (7:54) (9/10); the moving little LEGRAND/LAGOYA/ RAMPAL-like "Alumbrado" (1:38) (10/10); the acoustic-based, jazzified, GENESIS Selling England by the Pound-like "Los Origenes" (5:04) (8/10); the STEVE HILLAGE-meets-STEELY DAN-like "Los Hechos" (3:08) (9/10); the KOTEBEL-like "La Batalla" (4:18) (8/10); the delicate ALAN STIVELL-meets- SPIROGYRA-like "Final" (4:42) (8/10); the wonderful woodwind-dominated folk song, "Coda" (4:06) (10/10), and; the funked-up YUGEN-like, "Laberintos de Piedra" (5:22) (8/10).




15. FAUN Zaubersprüche (2002) (RenFest Music) is Faun's first release from a major music label. The album has a sound throughout--especially the first three songs--that makes it sound as if it were harnessed straight from the stages of Renaissance Fairs. The band has a very warm and engaging sound--which is captured very nicely through some very nice engineering. The individual performances are not quite as tight and polished as they could be but, again, the sound is great (better, IMO than on quiet Licht or the washed out & over-produced Von den Elben). The mood captured on Zubersprüche is quite relaxing though mesmerizing. I can imagine sitting on my wooden bench beneath a cool August night sky being lulled into a pleasantly hypnotic state by these songs. The vocals have a ways to go before they reach the heights of Renaissance, with Oliver and their harmonies, in particular, as yet unpolished.Zaubesprüche is Faun's first release from a major music label. The album has a sound throughout--especially the first three songs--that makes it sound as if it were harnessed straight from the stages of Renaissance Fairs. The band has a very warm and engaging sound--which is captured very nicely through some very nice engineering. The individual performances are not quite as tight and polished as they could be but, again, the sound is great (better, IMO than on quiet Licht or the washed out & over-produced Von den Elben). The mood captured on Zubersprüche is quite relaxing though mesmerizing. I can imagine sitting on my wooden bench beneath a cool August night sky being lulled into a pleasantly hypnotic state by these songs. The vocals have a ways to go before they reach the heights of Renaissance, with Oliver and their harmonies, in particular, as yet unpolished. Also, this is the era before electronic textures were added--before Niel Mitra joined the band.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade / vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharp, Celtic harp, jaw harp
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, recorders, whistles, bagpipes, sallow flute
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
With:
- Robert Geldner / bagpipes (3)
- Kenzo Gasain / percussion (3)
- Birgit Muggenthaler / hurdy gurdy (6)

1. Bean Sidhes (0:42)
2. "Rani" (3:20) great fast jam building and maintaining great tension from start to finish. (9/10)

3. "Nechein Man" (6:55) The Fiona show! Fiona and her recorder trade leads with minimal support until full sound enters at 0:45 and Elisabeth (and "distant" track of Fiona, Elisabeth & Oliver) harmonize with Fiona. Robert Geldner's bagpipe solos in the third and fourth minutes. Jaw harp at 5:00. (12.75/15)

4. "Das Schloss Am Meer" (4:56) folk guitar with Oliver and Fiona trading lead vocals. Could be FOTHERINGAY or FAIRPORT CONVENTION. Nyckelharp is the featured instrument on this one. Amazing what can be done with a drone-like foundation. Great tension. (8.75/10)

5. "Par Veneris" (2:47) ancient troubadour music! Elisabeth's turn in the lead. Brilliantly captured, rendered. (8.75/10)

6. "Tempus Transit" (4:15) another song that sounds as if it could come from the early Prog Folk movement in the late 1960s. Vocals are not recorded very well. (8/10)

7. "Das Wassermanns Welb" (3:31) Oliver and Elisabeth's gorgeous vocal duet. Beautiful soundscape created by picked guitar and Fiona's recorder. (9/10)

8. "Keridwen & Gwion" (3:08) Alan Stivell-like instrumental. (9/10)

9. "König Von Thule" (3:23) wonderful pastoral folk music with three voices working in gorgeous harmony. (8.75/10)

10. "Mehrnoush" (4:20) nickelharp solos for the first minute and a half. It then becomes a slow, plodding, dreary dirge-like tune--despite Oliver's wonderful performance on the nickelharp. (8/10)

11. "Vom Truge" (2:50) electrified acoustic guitar over which Oliver sings solo. (8/10)

12. "Troum und Speigelglas" (7:37) the jewel of the album; what amazing vocal arrangements and performances; great creation and maintenance of tension. Portends of the wonderful things to come for this band. (14/15)

Total time: 47:42

86.67 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a wonderful debut of antiquated Prog Folk--one that is highly recommended to all lovers of the sub-genre.





16. FAUNS LeafFall (2007) (Prog Folk) German Prog Folk family band Fauns (not to be mistaken with the German Pagan Folk band "Faun" -- with no "s") issued this very Tolkein-inspired international debut in 2007 to some critical acclaim and then their 2011 followup masterwork Awaiting the Sun before fading from sight. Whether the band still exists or the Berlin-based Hartmann family have and some illnesses or falling outs I do not know; their music is very difficult to hear much less acquire but well worth the effort. They have quite a little back catalogue of albums that never found international release, but if you can get your ears on LeafFall or Awaiting the Sun you can thank me later.

1. Chant (0:22)
2. On Misty Shores (8:36)
3. The Sprig Within Her Hair (3:43)
4. Dead Winter Sleep (7:28)
5. Tauriel (4:15)
6. As Her Autumn Song Called (4:27)
7. Lasselanta (0:30)
8. Cuiviénen (11:00)





17. VIIMA Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (2006)

Is a brilliant prog folk album from Finnish rockers. Fronted buy a female singer, Päivi Kylmänen, all the lyrics are sung in Finnish. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Päivi Kylmänen / vocals
- Kimmo Lähteenmäki / keyboards, drums
- Jarmo Kataja / bass
- Mikko Uusi-Oukari / guitars, flute
Guest musicians:
- Jankke Kuismin / bass (2, 3 & 5) 
- Kimmo Alho / Alto saxophone (5)

The opener, 1. "Leihonan Syksy" (6:27) aside from the female vocals, this one sounds like a dead ringer for a Finnish "Living in the Past"--until the instrumental stuff starts at the halfway point. Great mid-section with drums and Mellotron and then guitar and flute soloing. (8.75/10)

The title song (6:38) is at times a bit bland, at times a bit too folksy, but still a solid song. (9/10)

3. "Ilmalaiva Italia" (5:59) is a mellow tune with some simple but great musical support to some awesome vocal harmonies. It does thicken and become a kind of Blue Öyster Cult/Yes aggressive blues-rock in the middle, but then it settles back into the pretty mellow theme for the final 90 seconds. (8.75/10)

4. "Meri" (7:57) is great throwback to CURVED AIR's "Marie Antoinette" with great electric guitar substituting for David Cross' violin. (13.5/15)

5. "Luuttomat" (5:56) starts as a gorgeous acoustic guitar vocal & flute folk song before switching gears to electric guitar and saxophone after the opening 90 seconds. The soft, folky vocal section alternates with the NIL-like bluesy ominous music of the instrumental section twice before finishing on the soft side. (8.5/10)

The finale, 6. "Johdatus" (9:31) again shows a lot of similarities to CURVED AIR, musically, but especially in the lead vocalist's sounds and stylings. The piano-based, classically-tinged second section and the electric guitar play in the eighth minute are both highlights for me. (17.5/20) 

Total Time: 42:30

88.0 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Prog Folk.




18. TIRILL A Dance with the Shadows (2003) (Introspective Folk) is a collection of mostly soft and somber single-instrument based folk songs sung by the delicate voice of former WHITE WILLOW violinist, Tirill Mohn. "Vendela" (6:37) stands out as the only faster-paced, full-band supported song. The album's finale, "When You Sleep," is another standout due to the contributions of the ensemble of accordion, violin, and percussion that give it its Italian café feel.
     Tirill is obviously a very contemplative poet/lyricist as her season-based lyrics are quite evocative of the thoughts she has during certain times of the year. My recommendation of this album pales next to her 2013 release due mostly to the feeling that this is really a pop folk album more than a Prog Folk effort.
    A variation of this album was released from a different label in 2011 under the title, "Tales from Tranquil August Gardens." While it has a few more songs added to it, the packaging of the original is part of what makes it worth owning. Try the following song samples from YouTube:  "Dressed in Beauty" (5:21) (9/10), "June's Flowers" (3:25) (8/10), and; "Winter Roses" (4:43) (8/10).





19. FAUN Totem (2007) (Pagan FolkI find Totem quite disappointing considering the meteoric rise Faun had achieved from 2002's Zaubersprüche to 2005's Renaissance. After the first two over-electrified songs smack you in the face, the album calms down into simpler song structures that place more emphasis on the vocals--which is similar to their approach on their previous album, Renaissance. But this time there is a lack of power and conviction. There are even several occasions in which I hear obvious instances where the vocal harmonies and musicians' timing are off kilter. Again, disappointing. The lack of emotion conveyed is, to my mind, indicative of intra-band discord.

German "Pagan Folk" band FAUN is one of my favorite 21st Century bands with one of my favorite sounds of all. After rising so fast with their previous three albums, culminating in the sheer perfection that is 2005's Renaissance (one of the finest Prog Folk albums of all-time), the band here find themselves struggling to maintain a cohesive, coherent direction.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade / vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharp, Celtic harp, acoustic & electric guitars, zither, didgeridoo
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, recorder, whistle, bagpipes, sallow flute, fujara
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
- Niel Mitra / synths, sequencer, sampler, computer, drum programming, sounds, Fx
- Rüdiger Maul / percussion (tar, riq, davul, panriqello, darabukka, timbau)
With:
- Johannes Schleiermacher / cello (2,4,6,9,11) 
- Jennifer Evans Van Der Harten / Celtic harp (6)
- Hamid Khezri / dutar (8)

1. "Rad" (3:57) nice mood music opens this before heavily treated vocals of Oliver and Fiona enter singing a near-spell chant. Variations of voice effects and tandems (sometime using Elisabeth) continue as music drones along. It's actually quite effective if you were gathered around a fire at midnight trying to imbue certain spells into the ether. Nice play on the sallow flute by Fiona. (8.75/10)

2. "2 Falken" (4:59) odd electronic percussion effects (or programs) at the base of this one while Elisabeth sings in a voice that is far too effected by reverb etc. A very strange (for Faun), almost shoegaze song. (8.25/10)

3. "Sieben" (4:11) as if trying to sound primal/native/deep indigenous. Layers of Oliver's voice doing several things (drones, singing of lyrics, and vocalise) are alternated by dual voices of Fiona and Elisabeth. Interesting weave: hypnotic, but the sound is a little too processed (electronically). (8.5/10)

4. "November" (4:49) with guitar and cello, this one plays out as a far more common, standard, albeit modernized folk song--almost sounding like British Post Rock band MIDAS FALL. Pretty, soothing, but, in the end, fails to develop enough to maintain interest--and no extra. (8.5/10)

5. "Tinta" (4:52) here we find Faun in its more familiar element: the interpretation of an ancient song and tradition with Elisabeth leading in her breath-taking Renaissance voice and style. Percussion instruments build in the second half as do the layers of female voices. Brilliant rendition but there is still something that falls short of potential. (8.75/10)

6. "Unicorne" (4:21) Elisabeth Pawelke singing in French, an old love song. What a talent! Thank goodness the band was willing to work with her deepening attraction to these ancient forms and traditions. Beautiful and heart-wrenching. (8.75/10)

7. "Karuna" (3:21) a folk instrumental which lacks the band's usual unity and enthusiasm. (8.5/10)

8. "Gaia" (6:18) drawing from the East/Middle Eastern musical traditions, the band try on yet another ethnicity with grace and respect. However, the band comes up short in this rendition, offering instead what feels like a floundering mish-mash of multiple styles--ending up sounding like a JONATHAN GOLDMAN trance song. Stands strong and alone for just that: as a trance song. (8.5/10)

9. "Zeit Nach Dem Sturm" (5:57) soothing vocal weave over weird percussion choices. Too repetitive and drawn out. (7.75/10)

10. "Der Stille Grund" (3:07) an a cappella duet between Fiona and Elisabeth. The jewel of perfection of the album. Now this is what Faun is all about, to my mind. (9.25/10)

Total time: 45:52

I find Totem quite disappointing considering the meteoric rise Faun had achieved from 2002's Zaubersprüche to 2005's Renaissance. After the first two over-electrified songs smack you in the face, the album calms down into simpler song structures that place more emphasis on the vocals--which is similar to their approach on their previous album, Renaissance. But this time there is a lack of power and conviction. There are even several occasions in which I hear obvious instances where the vocal harmonies and musicians' timing are off kilter. Again, disappointing. The lack of emotion conveyed is, to my mind, indicative of intra-band discord. This is Lisa Pawelke's last album with the band--after she had finally achieved prominence and more front time with her vocal talents. She will be missed for an album or two, but, thankfully, the band reloads and comes out better than ever with Buch der Ballladen (2009), Eden (2011), and Luna (2014). The album ends with two songs that are most interesting for the way in which they illustrate the contrast of styles the band has explored: the Goth metal-ish "Zeit nach dem Sturm" and the a cappella female vocal duet between Lisa and Fiona, "Der stille Grund"--perhaps a farewell gesture to Lisa, who left the band to pursue more concentrated studies in classical training. While Totem is a decent, listenable album, it's just not as powerful or engaging as its predecessor.
     I now see another issue with these song choices in that they are often attempts to render ancient songs from a variety of cultural and ethnic traditions (a good thing) sometimes modernized with electronic treatments (interesting but sometimes overdone) and sometimes conveyed very conservatively ("Tinta" and "Unicorne") which, in their original forms and styles, can be very trying for the listener if one is not privy to the language being spoken/sung. While I deeply appreciate and enjoy the band's dedication to resurrecting and interpreting these amazing old songs and traditions, they may have spread themselves too thin with this collection. The typically complex layers of instrumental weaves the band had been doing on Zaubersprüche and Licht are gone; it's as if Fiona was off doing something else instead of displaying her extraordinary talents on an astonishing and ever-expanding palette of instruments and more intrigue and attention to Neil Mitra and his electronifications given.

85.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a good album of modern-renderings of ancient songs that falls short by being too undecided as to commitment to electronic effects and for lacking the enthusiastic instrumental embellishments established so impressively on their previous three albums. On Totem, Faun seems to be struggling to find its (new) identity. Unfortunately, Lisa Pawelke is gone after this album, and the band finds themselves really struggling (to find that identity) until it all finally comes together in the Prog Folk perfection that is 2011's Eden's Luna.

     This is Lisa Pawelke's last album with the band--after she had finally achieved prominence and more front time with her vocal talents. She left the band after Totem to pursue more concentrated studies in classical training. She will be missed for an album or two, but, thankfully, the band reloads and comes out better than ever with Buch der Ballladen (2009), Eden (2011), and Luna (2014). 
     The album ends with two songs that are most interesting for the way in which they illustrate the contrast of styles the band has explored: the Goth metal-ish "Zeit nach dem Sturm" and the a cappella female vocal duet between Lisa and Fiona, "Der stille Grund"--perhaps a farewell gesture to Lisa. While Totem is a decent, listenable album, it's just not as powerful or engaging as its predecessor.




20. THE DECEMBERISTS The Crane Wife

I have the great advantage of listening to this album 15 years after it's initial release--with 15 years of getting to know "Prog Folk" and folk rock behind me. (To put this into perspective, one of the first Prog Folk albums I tried from ProgArchives recommendations was this same band's "new"[at the time] and highly acclaimed release, Hazards of Love). There's a lot of familiarity to this music. I found myself hearing Bob Dylan, The Cure, REM (and the singing voice of Michael Stipes), even some Talking Heads, Smiths and Roddy Frame (Axtec Camera). 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Colin Meloy / acoustic & electric guitars, bouzouki, percussion, vocals
- Chris Funk / electric & pedal steel guitars, banjo, bouzouki, dulcimer, hurdygurdy, percussion, backing vocals
- Jenny Conlee / piano, Hammond & pump organs, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel, accordion, Moog Bass, percussion, backing vocals
- Nate Query / upright & electric basses, cello, percussion, backing vocals
- John Moen / drums, percussion, backing vocals
With:
- Christopher Walla / keyboards, backing vocals, mixing & co-producer
- Eyvind Kang / violin, viola
- Steve Drizos / hand drums
- Laura Veirs / duet (girl) vocals (3)
- Ezra Holbrook / backing vocals

1. "The Crane Wife 3" (4:18) very nice folk-rock in the vein of JACK O' THE CLOCK and even FLEET FOXES or The MOULETTES. (8.5/10)

2. "The Island" (12:26) one of the top three "songs" on the album. (22.5/25):
- a) Come And See (6:14) organ and electric bass and guitars make this extended opening proggy, a little PINK FLOYDian. At the two-minute mark we stop and set up a new, simple, one-instrument foundation over which Colin enters to sing. At the end of the third minute drums join in, then bass and then, finally, at 3:30 the full band. (9/10)
- b) The Landlord's Daughter (2:47) Hammond and fast-picking acoustic guitar accompany Colin to open this part until one minute in the whole band burst forward for the chorus. There's a kind of "Can You Hear Me?" feel to this one before it turns ELP-ish. (9/10)
- c) You'll Not Feel the Drowning (5:33) moderately fast picked acoustic guitar arpeggi play on before Colin joins in. Organ and piano add some in the chorus (organ staying thereafter). (4.5/5)

3. "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" (4:18) sounds just like a Michael Stipes/REM song--despite the shared lead vocal duties with Laura Veirs. Laid back, melodic, and very simple. (8.5/10) 

4. "O Valencia!" (3:47) Bob Dylan meets Roddy Frame. (8.25/10)

5. "The Perfect Crime #2" (5:33) a pop-bluesier sound palette (with a bass sounding like TONY LEVIN) reminding me of ROSY VELA. While I love this song, it's not really proggy. More PopJazz. It's bouncy, light, and danceable. (9/10)

6. "When The War Came" (5:06) a great, truly proggy song. Also a strong vocal performance to match the music and lyric. My favorite on the album. (9/10)

7. "Shankill Butchers" (4:39) a gentle folk song that starts out as a solo Colin Meloy performance of guitar and vocal. Various and sundry instruments begin to show their simple contributions after the first verse and chorus. It has a very old-time southern porch folk feel to it. (8/10)

8. "Summersong" (3:31) strummed guitars and accordion with full rock combo supporting Colin's vocal. Nice melodies and construction. Another top three for me. (9/10)

9. "The Crane Wife 1 & 2 (11:19) After two and a half minutes the song finally kicks into full gear but the pace and styling changes little until the sixth minute. The choral vocalise in the fifth minute is a nice touch. At 5:35 there is slow down and shift to a base of acoustic guitar arpeggi (often one, long-held chord). Chorus with lap pedal steel guitar is nice. Organ joins in for third verse of this second motif though the overal mood remains reserved and sensitive. A very nice, moving song. (17.25/20)

10. "Sons & Daughters" (5:13) a great finishing song as it builds from a few droning noises into a fully textured song with anthemic lyrics sung over the top. I love the chorale vocal approach in the final two minutes to "here all the bombs fade away" lyric. (8.75/10)

Total Time: 73:48

People commenting of this band's acumen on their instruments must not have heard the amazing skills and intricacies of The MOULETTES! Colin & Co's music, style, and skills are more akin to those of Damon Waitkus (Jack O' The Clock) to me. 

87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very solid contribution to the Prog Folk lexicon and a nice addition to an adventurous prog lover's music collection. 




STEVE UNRUH The Great Divide (2009) (Acoustic Prog Folk) is an acoustic, old English and bluegrass-influenced version of Prog Folk not unlike The Strawbs, Gryphon or the more acoustically-oriented solo albums of Ian Anderson, Cat Stevens, or Peter Shelley with a little pinch each of Peter Hammill and Frank Zappa thrown in there for good measure. Entertaining, mostly unpredictable, and, thankfully, mostly instrumental. (I cringe to think of hearing this music delivered by electric instruments. Devin Townsend!)




WOVENHAND Mosaic (2006) (Introspective Folk) "Swedish Purse" (3:31); "Dirty Blue" (4:46); "Whistling Girl" (4:41); "Winter Shaker" (3:44); "Deerskin Doll" (5:37) (8/10), and "Truly Golden" (3:34) (9/10).




RITUAL The Hemulic Voluntary Band

An interesting album in which the Moomin folk tales of Finnish author Tove Jansson are rendered using a variety of old, traditional folk instruments mixed with modern electricity.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Patrik Lundström / lead & backing vocals, electric & acoustic guitars
- Jon Gamble / grand piano, Rhodes, clavinet, harmonium, backing vocals
- Fredrik Lindqvist / bass, Irish bouzouki, dulcimer, whistles, recorders, backing vocals
- Johan Nordgren / drums, percussion, nyckelharpa, backing vocals
With:
- Lovisa Hallstedt / violin (6)

1. "The Hemulic Voluntary Band" (4:53) opens like a mix of GENTLE GIANT and YES until the JETHRO TULL-like singing verses begin. Quite an unusual use of percussion instruments. Fine imitations creating an unusual and rather unique sound palette delivering a song that doesn't quite stick. (8.5/10)
2. "In the Wild" (5:55) driving, cohesive band construct, with great vocal and melodies. I am rather appreciative of the slowed down piano section in the middle--kind of Freddie Mercury-like. (8.75/10)
3. "Late in November" (4:59) feels like a medieval love song--or something from the band MOON SAFARI. Nice weave; nice vocals. I'd love to hear more of those multi-voiced vocal harmonies. (8.75/10)
4. "The Groke" (6:06) delightfully ominous--with accordion! But then it sadly disappears. A decent song again employing an unusual palette of percussion. (8.5/10)
5. "Waiting by the Bridge" (4:36) multiple instruments bouncing all around the soundscape over which multiple voices sing the lead. I like the different stuff in the final third. (8.25/10)
6. "A Dangerous Journey" (26:35) some truly wonderful musical palettes and motifs diminished, unfortunately, by the rather silly rat-based libretto. Sometimes it sounds a bit like THE DECEMBERISTS. Wish there were more efforts to layer vocal harmonies as in the 19th minute. This could be a 5 star epic were the lyrics more relevant and the musical shifts more varied stylistically and in tempo. Love the shift to a happy/major key in the 24th minute. (43.75/50) :
- Cat & Glasses 
- The Swamp 
- A Curious Crowd 
- Volcano 
- Snowstorm 
- Onion Soup 
- Monster! 
- Balloon 
- A Party Outdoors

Total Time 53:04

86.5 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.




MOTIS L'homme-loup (2006) The French folk and prog traditions are often quite distinctive from those of other nations and the work of Manu Tissot is no exception. Acoustic instrumentation is his the foundation and strength of his music but there are electronic enhancements and electric instruments to make important and sometimes key contributions to each song. Of the MOTIS songs I've been able to hear, the ones from L'homme-loup feel the most universally accessible and appropriate for the Prog Folk monicker, while the ones from 2004's Les prince des hauteurs contain more a bit more diversity of styles and tempos and much more variety in electronic enhancements, and those from 2011's Ripaille exhibit a little more prog rock stylings (e.g. riffs from GENESIS, GENTLE GIANT, YES, et al.) though in simplified, abbreviated forms.

Try listening to: "Prince des hauteurs" (from Le prince des hauteurs) et "L'homme-loup" (13:07); and "Ripaille" (3:44) and "Pleine lune" (6:00) from Ripaille to see your reaction.




JUDY DYBLE Talking with Strangers

Prog Folk legend Judy Dyble getting together with many of her collaborators from the past. (She was part of the British prog scene in the 1960s and early 1970s. She left music to retreat to a farm life in 1973.) She sings about the past, the times she passed on her self-imposed agrarian exile. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Judy Dyble / vocals, autoharp
With:
- Alistair Murphy / acoustic (2,3,5,6), electric & 12-string (5) guitars, organ (2,3,5,6), keyboards (2,3,5), piano (4-6), Dynatron (4), electric piano, synth, e-bow, arrangements, co-producer
- Tim Bowness / co-lead (6) & backing (1-5,7) vocals, electric guitar (7), arrangements, co-producer
- Jacqui McShee / backing vocals (2,5,7)
- Julianne Regan / backing vocals (3,7)
- Celia Humphris / backing vocals (3,7)
- Simon Nicol / acoustic guitar (1,7)
- John Gillies / acoustic guitar (5)
- Paul Robinson / electric guitar (7)
- Harry Fletcher / electric guitar (7)
- Robert Fripp / guitar & Fx (7)
- Ian McDonald / lead alto saxophone (7), flutes (3,5,7), ukulele (7)
- Laurie A'Court / tenor & alto saxophones (6,7)
- Sanchia Pattinson / oboe (7)
- Rachel Hall / violin (7)
- Mark Fletcher / bass (3,5-7)
- Pat Mastelotto / drums & percussion (3,5-7)

1. "Neverknowing" (1:42) Two guitars (Alistair Murphy and Simon Nicol [from Fairport Convention]) backing Judy. A surprisingly strong song and vocal. Tim Bowness' contribution is nice. (4.5/5) 

2. "Jazzbirds" (3:05) with autoharp, guitars, full rock ensemble, and electric effects on Judy's voice, this is a more 1970s-sounding Prog Folk song. Nice but nothing very special. (8.5/10) 

3. "C'est La Vie" (4:15) a perfect arrangement of instruments to surround Judy's voice with. Nice backing vocal appearance from former founding TREES vocalist, Celia Humphris and long time folk contributor Julianne Regan. My favorite song on the album. (9/10)

4. "Talking With Strangers" (3:25) A pleasant if innocuous song that, unfortunately, continuous to accentuate the frailty in Judy's aged voice. (8/10)

5. "Dreamtime" (4:19) again, a nice musical weave to support Judy's vocal, but her voice her again seems to reveal its aged fragilities. (8.5/10)  

6. "Grey October Day" (6:04) lounge jazzy soundscape with piano, bass, and gently brushed drums support Judy and Tim Bowness in this traditional duet. Organ, electric guitar, and horns add some texture and tension in the second verse and behind Tim's up-close-and-personal performance. A long saxophone solo in the middle draws the song out (unnecessarily). (Laurie A'Court's contribution is much better, more appropriate in the final section.) (8.5/10)

7. "Harpsong" (19:19) a very personal song full of vignettes and various perspectives on her cumulative life story. This song is a special historical marker in that many of her esteemed and luminous musical collaborators from the 1960s came out to contribute to this. It is now even more heart-wrenching that she has died--like this song represents one glorious reunion and the ensuing party--just as may be happening in Heaven as we speak.
     After the delicate and maudlin folk-rock beginning section (which houses Judy's singing of her autobiographical lyrics) we are sucked into a kind of old KING CRIMSON section before settling into a Steve REICHian percussionary bridge to return to the more saccharine vocal-supporting motif. Emotional and historic. (35/40)

Total time 42:09 

Judy's voice is more fragile and unstable than it was, yet her nostalgic lyrics poignant and meaningful. Her performances are welcome and courageous. The album is most for the nostalgic feel. I have to admit a fair amount of excitement at the prospect of hearing the contributions of long-time folk diva Jacqui MacShee (John Renbourn, PENTANGLE) on a couple songs, but her presence is barely discernible. 

86.32 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice contribution to the Prog Folk catalog--one that is filled with nostalgia and historical significance. A nice addition to the prog lover's music collection.