An essential masterpiece in traditional music collection and interpretation…a journey piece of pure and utterly beautiful music and singing.
By Glenn Kimpton
If you are a listener who enjoys plenty of context and a rich sense of place and history to an album, this highly accomplished project from West Wales native Owen Shiers, who creates under his Cynefin name, a palimpsest of a Welsh word meaning animals’ trails in hillsides and the sense of familiarity and belonging, will absolutely delight. The album is packaged beautifully with an introduction by Shiers and extensive notes on each traditional song and tune in Welsh and English. For a debut piece, this is a luxurious and high-quality product that is a good indication of the level of thought, passion and apparent dedication that has gone into its creation.
Shiers clearly has music running through his veins, having grown up around his father’s harp workshop (lucky!) and since worked on many projects based at the Real World studios, among other claims. His debut album is full of gorgeous nuanced music, all considerate of the underlying theme of the album, which translates to ‘Following a River’. Being a particularly skilled finger-style acoustic guitar player, the instrument is never far away from the front of the tunes, but what struck me quickly when listening to the album was the often sympathetic roles of other instruments, so delicately arranged. On ‘Y Fwyalchen Ddu Bigfelen’ (‘The Yellow Beaked Blackbird’; all song titles are translated in the notes), Shiers’ voice and guitar are gently prominent, but also present are violin, cello and harp among other instruments and the result is a soothing, softly undulating sound that carries along Owen’s clear vocals perfectly. Most of the songs are sung in Welsh, which has an effect on the non-Welsh speaker of something like birdsong, where the words can wash over the listener. With excellent notes on every song included, the story is never lost, so for this instrumental music fan, the vocals can become another instrument, helping create a fully cohesive soundscape.
The opening track, ‘Cân O Glod I’r Clettwr’, a version of blacksmith Daff Jones’ song, has probably the loosest structure here, with sharp ethereal strings and low bowed notes coming in after a solo rendition of the verse, creating a slow dark mood that slips into a far more rhythmic tune for ‘Dole Tefi / Lliw’r Heulwen’, two traditional Welsh folk songs set to a great double bass line and some wonderful trombone playing by Michel Padron. Following them is ‘Y Ddau Farch / Y Bardd A’r Gwcw’, a stunningly beautiful medley of two pieces focused on the slightly more psych-folk topic of anthropomorphism and animal communication. This is a fine example of how Shiers’ voice can blend in so well with the musical arrangements surrounding it. The guitar sound here is clear and the melody is lovely; the violin of Flora Curzon softly haunting the background is subtle and enriches the tune wonderfully when it steps in line and the cracking double bass of Alfie Weedon changes the texture of the tune in the second half. The result is one of the most innocently romantic folk songs I have heard in some time.
After listening to Dilyn Afon for some time, I feel it unnecessary to write a response to each of the tracks on there and instead will simply hail it an essential masterpiece in traditional music collection and interpretation, performed to an exemplary level quite astonishing in a first solo collection. The music played throughout by Shiers and his band is finely arranged and meticulously considered. Take final track ‘Ffarwel I Aberystwyth’ as example; the song is almost a solo piece, with a lovely slow acoustic guitar line confidently carrying Owen’s voice as he sings a tale of sailors leaving for Cardigan Bay, until the subtlest bowing of Curzon’s violin towards the end adds a pinch of texture and longing to Shiers’ final vocal refrain. Dilyn Afon is a memorable set that will undoubtedly feature in my albums of the year list come December. It is a journey piece of pure and utterly beautiful music and singing in the most generous of album packages and I implore you all to buy it.