Lleuwen : Gwn Glân Beibl Budr

This is an album of raw, rooted and radiant music.

Gwn Glân Beibl Budr opens with the rough, resounding acoustic guitar of Myn Mair (a sound oddly reminiscent of Roy Harper at his most abrasive); once Lleuwen sings the contrast between vocal and instrument is as immediate, stark and intentional as the black and white of the album's cover.

From there the songs take paths as diverse and experimental as the backgrounds of the musicians Lleuwen chose to work with for the recordings - who included traditional triple harpist Llio Rhydderch, jazz pianist Neil Cowley, classical tenor Rhys Meirion, Owen Evans (bass), Francesca Simmons (strings), and Aled & Dafydd Hughes of Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. Elemental arrangements and deft production consistently give each collaborator space to make understated yet telling contributions.

As its title (which means Clean Gun Dirty Bible in English) suggests, the album's lyrical themes essay abstractly across a disturbing contemporary landscape. The words are Welsh, but translations are provided - and these never lack poetry.

Gwn Glân Beibl Budr is not a complete unexpected turn from Lleuwen's past. There are plenty of mellow, flowing songs with subtle backing - notably Y Garddwr (The Gardener) that follows Myn Mair, Benigeidfran, Tir Na Nog and the simple, beautiful hymn to the memory of the writer's grandfather, Cân Taid. But these are assiduously punctuated by rousing folk (Hen Rebel) and other more exploratory tracks - including an effective, fresh reading of Cwm Rhondda, with brilliant accenting percussion.

Cofia Fi (Remember Me) and Caerdydd (Cardiff) abut just over half way through and arguably offer the set's highlights. The former is muted, poetic and moving, the latter has a quiet, insistent late night but optimistic shuffle lifted higher by a gliding, golden-voiced chorus. If you are not emotionally stirred hearing these two compositions, you should get someone to check your heart is still beating.

At the very end, to suitably sign off, is Hwyr (Late) - a delicately-picked and doleful elegy for humanity, life and progress.

Gwn Glân Beibl Budr feels like the final, central panel of a sublime triptych of intelligent acoustic albums issued over the last twelve months by SAIN, with Bob Delyn a'r Ebillion's Dal i 'Redig Dipyn Bach and the debut (Llifo Fel Oed) from Lleuwen's own sister's folk / country duo, Blodau Gwylltion, flanking it. However framed, Lleuwen's latest release is from a singer-songwriter at the height of her powers.

Every syllable on Gwn Glân Beibl Budr is sung from the soul - so much so that the impact is never lessened by lack of understanding of the singer's native language. Lleuwen's vocals can effortlessly range from grace to anger in a beat, always evoking emotion in the listener. Her singing is often heart-rending, the songs are masterfully crafted and spontaneous; the album is a career-defining masterpiece.


LLEUWEN I Caerdydd