Gareth Bonello’s latest album sees him excavating his homeland’s folk classics, interpreting each with drowsy, melancholic voice, guitar, cello and piano
The Gentle Good is Cardiff-based folk musician Gareth Bonello, whose musical interests often take him far from home. He has explored the bardic connections between Taoist and druidic storytelling (on 2013’s Y Bardd Anfarwol), and the songs of Welsh Christian missionaries with the Indian musicians affected by them. But Galargan (“lament” in Welsh) sees him burrow into his national identity and history to excavate songs full of longing.
Recording in his kitchen and a cottage in the wild expanses of Mid Wales’s Elan Valley, Bonello has ploughed through the rich song collections of the late Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney at the National Library of Wales, among others, then arranged the chosen tunes for voice, guitar, cello and piano, all played by him. Galargan begins with the softly yielding beauty of Pan Own I Ar Foreddydd (As I Was One Morning), where a blackbird “tuning on the branch” fascinates the protagonist, providing hope in dim light. Nid Wyf Yn Llon (I Am Not Happy) follows, which, with its Morrisseyesque title feels fittingly bleak. A song collected from a drunk prisoner by a jail warden in Dolgellau, its rhythms and melodies drip and pool like a particularly mournful example of Portuguese fado.
Bonello’s voice is as comforting as warm water and honey throughout, wrapping around lilting syllables and so many mesmerising, slow-moving moments. Great, too, is his intricate, woozy guitar playing, descending in golden thickets on Y Bachgen Main (The Slender Lad). Phosphorescent piano lines decorate Beth Yw’r Haf I Mi? (What Is Summer to Me?) as a boy mourns the loss of his love in the blazing sun. This drowsy, melancholic album is perfect for late summer, full of that specific kind of sadness some of us sense as the seasons pass by.