"Blodgeuredd"; cover art by Mary Lloyd Jones
For one week, 24 musicians gathered in a 15th-century gatehouse set in the stirringly beautiful Preseli Hills of Wales. They sang, played, and shared their passion for a musical tradition as old as the hills outside their window. The result was Blodgeuredd: Song of the Flowers – An Anthology of Welsh Music and Song.
Blodgeuredd (Welsh for “song of flowers”) is newly released this summer from Smithsonian Folkways, a label that excels at capturing traditional music in its purest, most honest form. The tracks on Blodgeuredd are indeed like a bouquet of wildflowers: rough and untidy, yet each one sweet, redolent, and hauntingly captivating. The instrumentals have an intimate, understated quality, yet are by turns lively or plaintive as the pieces demand. There are the usual Celtic staple instruments, like harp and accordian, but also some more obscure, uniquely Welsh ones like the crwth (bowed lyre) and pibgorn (a herdsman’s woodwind made from bull horns).
In a market inundated with the more familiar Irish- and Scottish-style recordings, Welsh music receives comparatively little attention and may be difficult to define to those less accustomed to it. Although a distinct tradition in itself, it can be likened to a blend of Irish, English, medieval, Renaissance and Scandinavian sounds.
Far from sounding like a field recording frozen in time, Blodgeuredd flows with contemporary energy. Singer Mary Hopkin, the first artist ever to have been signed to the Beatles’ Apple record label, resembles a Welsh Karen Matheson in the opening track, Y’deryn pur (“Gentle Bird”). Christine Cooper, young and fresh-sounding, fiddles while reciting poetry about the changing seasons in the eerily beautiful Colli’r Eos (“Losing the Nightengale”). The gentle acoustic guitar picking in Lisa Lan, Ffoles Llantristant (“Beautiful Lisa, Girl from Llantristant”) conjures warm images of friends gathered around for a fireside sing.
The album includes a 44-page bilingual (Welsh/English) book of liner notes and photos, adding depth to the overall experience of the CD. Smithsonian Folkways’ self-stated mission it to, “seek to strengthen people's engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others.” It is reassuring to know that the ancient music of a small Celtic nation is alive and well and in good hands.