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Jim Foley of Roots World

reviews A Gower Garland by Calennig

Calennig paints a musical portrait of a Welsh past redolent with surface
familiarity, especially in its conformity with contemporary nostalgic
notions of Christmas, but also deeply challenging in the pagan pageantry
implicated in Yule traditions.  On A Gower Garland, their tribute to the
late Gower Peninsula minstrel Phil Tanner, Mick Tems and Patricia
Carron-Smiths dual accordions offer high-spirits and incipient goofiness,
but without an overtly humorous intent. Tems vocals are so spirited you
can hear his smile; Smith adds open-toned, slightly over-the-top accompaniment.

Gower Reel sets the stage musically, with a heavy yet bouncy accordion
rhythm, peculiarly Welsh vocal scat, and spoon percussion.  Surrounded by
light, lilting jigs, accordions like church organs with their walking bass
lines, Sandy Banks resolves into a joyous Christmas tune.  The minimally
accompanied but vocally dense Brandys Song and Poor Old Horse, with
its deliberate chorus and swinging verses, are likewise Yule songs, lyrics
strangely compelling, but relatively impenetrable without detailed
knowledge of Horse Head customs.

Calennig shines brightest on their story songs.  Gowerton Fair is a first
person narrative of an amorous swain thwarted by a coy miners wife.  On
The Mistletoe Bough, a piano and violin waltz, Tems and Smith exchange
lead lines in the tale of the tragic forbidden love of a man and a
fairy.  Soap, Starch, Candles is a nuanced a cappella tale of a man, his
sweety, and her fathers corner store, to the proprietorship of which he
reluctantly but happily succeeds. A Gower Garland is a triumphant
preservation of a peculiar past, one in which it is a pleasure to become