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.
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.
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.
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 singerCaterina 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 vocalistFloriana 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)
9. "Barrio Gotico" (7:16) sees the return ofFloriana 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)
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
- Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade / vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharp, Celtic harp, jaw harp
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, recorders, whistles, bagpipes, sallow flute
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
- 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)
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
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)
- Kimmo Lähteenmäki / keyboards, drums
- Jarmo Kataja / bass
- Mikko Uusi-Oukari / guitars, flute
- Jankke Kuismin / bass (2, 3 & 5)
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.
19. FAUN Totem (2007) (Pagan Folk) 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.
- 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)
- Johannes Schleiermacher / cello (2,4,6,9,11)
- Jennifer Evans Van Der Harten / Celtic harp (6)
- Hamid Khezri / dutar (8)
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)
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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)
Total Time: 73:48
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)
- David Eugene Edwards / vocals, guitar, bass
- Ordy Garrison / drums
- Daniel McMahon / piano
- Elin Palmer / strings
1. "Breathing Bull" (1:30) droning instrumental intro. Sets the campfire-like mood for the stories to come. (4.25/5)
2. "Winter Shaker" (3:44) vocalist style is most like JIM MORRISON and BONO; the music feels like electrified Native American music. The lyrics would indicate faux-Christian. (8.75/10)
3. "Swedish Purse" (3:31) organ and banjo would seem to be picking up where the last song left, dirging. Drums and melodramatic vocal enter and take us into the bedroom for nighttime story telling. Captivating. (8.75/10)
4. "Twig" (2:12) (4.25/5)
5. "Whistling Girl" (4:41) more stark scene-setting music and lyrics delivered as if we are hearing stories intended to test our faith and beliefs--to shake us to our core. A top three song. (9/10)
6. "Elktooth" (3:17) scratchy instruments and vocal effect here does this Jim Morrison song delivery no service. (8.25/10)
7. "Bible And Bird" (2:21) lighter and more hope-filled than any of the previous songs. Nothing very special here, though; just a space-filling interlude. (4/5)
8. "Dirty Blue" (4:42) another interesting palette with questionable mix and effects. Too bad: there are some interesting ideas here. (8/10)
9. "Slota Prow-Full Armour" (5:53) hurdy-gurdy? Or some other ancient bowed squeeze box? Radio-static-effected vocal. (Why?) Interesting hand percussives enter/join in after 1:50--as does heavily accented speech. Is this person being stalked? or desperately looking for water? There is definitely a tone of desperation in his voice. Again, I feel as if I'm in a dark little theater observing some deeply personal historical play. Fascinating. (8.75/10)
10. "Truly Golden" (3:34) Moving. Another very unusual soundscape. A top three song for me. (9/10)
11. "Deerskin Doll" (5:33) once again hauntingly bridging that cold prairie feeling with Native American scales, tones, and rhythms. Another top three song. (8.75/10)
12. "Little Raven/Shun" (4:12) beautiful little finger-piano-like campfire lullaby ditty that is drawn out over spacious emptiness only to be shape-shifted into a sound and landscape like a bizarre nightmare. Such stage-ready music! (8.75/10)
Total time: 45:06
- 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
- 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)
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) :
- The Swamp
- A Curious Crowd
- Onion Soup
- A Party Outdoors
Total Time 53:04
MOTIS L'homme-loup (2006) (Mediæval Troubadour Folk) 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.
- Emmanuel Tissot / vocals, mandolin, guitar, bass, Taurus, bouzouki, spinet, Mellotron, Moog, Hammond, Fender Rhodes
- Florent Tissot / flute, guitar solo (11), backing vocals
- Rémy Diaz / drums, percussion
- Guillaume Grenard / trumpet
- Alan Daniel / violin
- Clovis Caron / backing vocals
- Alexandre Lambert / backing vocals
- Delphine Tissot / backing vocals
1. "Isengrin" (3:07) singer with hand percussion sings fast lyric over full band. Weird, eerie, theatric song. (8.5/10)
2. "P'tit Louis" (4:26) acoustic folk troubadour ensemble that is mostly mandolin based until Mellotron joins in for chorus. Then drums and bass and keys join in for the second verse before male monk voices supply choral background. Nice, creative development. (8.67/10)
3. "L'ermite (5:17) strummed 12-string guitar with flutes open this with a lively rhythm. When vocalist joins it feels Renaissance Faire-like--which is then enhanced tenfold when little instrumental patches fill spaces between the vocal passages. A very interesting song texturally that never seems to quite congeal as I would like it to. (8.67/10)
4. "La dame et le dragon" (5:42) has a heavy, plodding, march-like mediæval feel to it. Not bombastic or pretentious but definitely theatric. Multiple voices help sing parts in a choral style. Nice flute work. (8.67/10)
5. "Les Normands" (3:58) synth beat and organ chords reminiscent of "Watcher in the Skies" before everything turns Reggae-rasta beat. Weird! (8.33/10)
6. "La Trahison" (7:03) solo 12-string opens the song with spacious picking and some strumming while Emmanuel sings. Band joins in (with horns!) for space between verses. This sounds so Spanish! Florent and others doubles up vocal with Emmanuel for second verse and other parts (but not full-time). Nice trumpet and flute work over Mellotron and interesting blues-rock rhythm pattern. I'm reminded of Jacques Brel here: the storytelling is so dramatic. The story must be the only thing to justify the length. (13/15)
7. "L'enchanteur" (4:00) opens like a WHO song: melodies & sound palette. Interesting. Definitely prog folk. (8.75/10)
8. "Allons mes xompagnons" (4:05) a more-mediæval sounding song (due to the big bass-tom beat, psalter-like guitar, brass horns, accordion, squeeze box, and form. Cool song palette. (8.75/10)
9. "L'Artaban" (4:39) fast mandolin-paced full-band song actually slows down for the chorus/instrumental parts. I'm sure there is a story here. (8.67/10)
10. "Madrigal" (5:25) violins open this before full band joins in for a nice slow paced Country Western sound palette. When Emmanuel joins in to sing it suddenly feels familiar--like some song by STYX or BILLY JOEL. Weird but definitely a top three for me. (8.75/10)
11. "L'homme-loup" (3:45) interesting mix of instrumental sounds: organ-like synth chords, active steel-stringed acoustic guitars, carny drums. (8.75/10)
Total time 51:27
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.
86.50 on the Fishscales = B/four stars.