Neil Browning,
Scwisbocs
(Sain, 1998)

If, like me, your only acquaintance with Welsh folk music is "The Ash Grove," you must acquire Neil Browning's Scwisbocs right away.

Not that "The Ash Grove" is on it -- far from it. What you get on Scwisbocs is a varied assortment of Welsh folk tunes performed mainly on Browning's "scwisbocs" ("squeezebox," in Welsh phonetics). In addition to Browning's various accordions, plus a staggering array of other instruments including piano, fiddle and crumhorn, backing musicians include Paul Alrey (guitar), Jen Whalley (hammered dulcimer), David and Meg Browning (bodhran) and Kate Browning (clarinet).

From the first notes of the first track you start thinking "I know that! It's -- oh wait, no, it's ---?" If you look at the liner notes, you'll see it is a set comprising three Welsh tunes "Y Lili (The Lily)," "Seren Y Bore (The Morning Star)" and "Aden Y Fran Ddu (The Black Crow's Wing)." It's lively happy appealing dance music. Apparently, Browning chose many fairly common tunes, but if so, the uninitiated are doubly blessed in their ignorance in that the music is new to the ear.

Browning plays with the music on "Yr Hen Gwcw," a set of the tunes "Hen Ferrecther (Old Maiden)," "Nyth Y Gwcw (The Cuckoo's Nest)" and "Professional Morris," trying different rhythms and incorporating a variety of cultural and historical influences before it erupts into a full blow Morris dance. "Arlan Y Mor (By the Sea)" follows the exuberance, and in contrast, it is edgy with electric guitars and a slower melody deceptive in its simplicity.

Not all the music is traditional, as demonstrated in the track "Good Friends." The three original tunes sound true to tradition with a contemporary flair.

Scwisbocs is a good introduction to a branch of Celtic music that doesn't get quite as much attention as the Irish and Scottish. This CD is a delight from start to finish and should earn a place in any traditional folk music collection.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 13 September 2003