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I have reviewed a lot of records in my time here at Norman, but never before have I reviewed a Welsh-language record which fuses familiar folky sounds with elements of Chinese traditional music. This album here is the culmination of a lot of effort and air miles for Gareth Bonello, who started the journey towards making this concept album with a six week artistic residency with the Chengdu Associated Theatre of Performing Arts in late 2011, where he explored the country's music and literature and collaborated with local traditional musicians.
On returning to the UK, he teamed up with an impressive crowd of musicians including composer Seb Goldfinch, The Mavron String Quartet, and members of the UK Chinese Ensemble to write and record this sprawling concept album. I'm not going to get too far into the concept because you can read about that in the press release and I don't understand Welsh! The musical focus through the majority of the album does lie with Bonello's plaintive acoustic plucking and soft Welsh voice, but when the Oriental influences come out they aren't subtle.
Mid-album instrumental 'Meddyliau Distaw'r Nos' in particular sounds much closer to traditional Chinese music, with the soft string picking being joined initially by a twangy harp-like sound and later some lovely breathy flutes, as they repeat a warm and mysterious melodic refrain. The rich but restrained arrangements and general sweeping ambitiousness of the album keep reminding me of that Magnetic North album I liked a lot a couple of years ago, but sung in Welsh and about China rather than Orkney. As with that album, you can tell there's been a lot of care and attention invested in it. I wish I understood what he was singing about, but that's not his fault.
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