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David Kidman of Netrythms

reviews Gleowien by Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer

Just to put your mind at rest, Gleowien is a middle-English word meaning to make music and merry: a decidedly worthy activity to which Vicki and Jonny’s fourth album (and third for WildGoose) is dedicated. As was apparent right from their days in Serious Kitchen, Vicki and Jonny certainly enjoy making music at any time, and with each of their records (and live performances, come to that) I’m brought up sharp by their natural and apparently effortless multi-talentedness. Gleowien is a glorious celebration of that trait, sure, but it also marks a further milestone in their development as musicians.

Not only are Vicki and Jonny both continuing to grow in stature as singers and song-interpreters, but they’re also expanding their available instrumental sound-palette. In the latter respect the most striking element is the latest addition to the duo’s already impressive instrumental armoury: Vicki’s fairly-newly-acquired nyckelharpa (that determinedly unwieldy-looking but wonderful Swedish instrument), which provides yet another string (or 16!) to her bow (!). She adds its distinctive, haunting timbre to a goodly number of the tracks (but to her credit, she refrains from over-exposing the instrument’s delights). Textures are sensibly well varied over the course of the disc, with Jonny’s trusty and friendly guitar overlaid and/or counterpointed by a melody (or harmony) line or two from Vicki, who flits mercurially between Scottish smallpipes, wooden flute and the aforementioned nyckelharpa. Jonny also adds further colours to the mix with accordion and cittra (a Swedish zither), while there are some wondrously subtle yet inventive guest contributions from a neat little rhythm section comprising bass guitarist Mark Southgate, Bellowhead’s mad percussionist Pete Flood and bodhrán player Roy Jones.

The disc more or less alternates between instrumental sets (seven) and vocal items (five); all but one of the former consist of original compositions in traditional style by Jonny or Vicki - and by traditional I mean Scottish, English and Swedish, and often you can’t feel the join, so authentically are they managed. Pick of these for me is the central Whist, which pairs a beguilingly reflective slow air with a more vigorous depiction of a game of cards (the real deal!), while the more rhythmic Time Out set ingeniously pulls the smallpipes away from their Highland heritage. Similarly, the songs range over (or are strongly influenced by) the traditions: first, there’s two fine examples of Jonny’s creative synthesising of classic ballads (Child #3, here called William, and Lord Ullin’s Daughter), on which at times I can’t help hearing the spirits of that admirable Australian duo Cloudstreet (no aspersions intended!) in terms of tone, manner, phrasing and presentation. Then there’s Vicki’s translation of an enchanting Swedish love song (The Roses Three), and a delicate setting by Vicki of a charming poem (The ‘Dood’ Night Kiss) written for her grandfather by his own grandfather! Arguably the most enduring of the vocal tracks, though, is Jonny’s genial and memorable (if gentle) chorus song calling the family home from the fields (Follow Me Home).

With its exceedingly well balanced menu and a light, airy and thoroughly infectious vibe amply befitting its title, this refreshing CD communicates every scrap of the musicians’ enjoyment of their craft while managing to quietly impress without needing to shout or boast.