Steve Eaves,
(Sain, 2007)

It's amazing some of the musical talent hidden away in the remotest regions of Cymru/Wales. On this CD, singer-songwriter Steve Eaves of the group Rhai Pobl, from the former slate mining area near Bangor, North Wales, strikes out on his own with this bluesy, pensive evocation of the Welsh landcape and soul.

Moelyci is named for a mountain near his home in Rhiwlas that has great resonance for Eaves; he lived most of his life by that mountainside, raised his children there and scattered his wife's ashes in its shadow.

This is a nicely recorded collection of blues and country-tinged music from the Welsh-speaking heart of Wales, featuring 11 songs by Eaves, who sings and also plays guitar and harmonica, with solid contributions from a number of musicians. These include the lovely vocals of Jackie Williams, as well as Elwyn Wiliams (guitars and keyboards), Gwyn Jones (drums) and Iwan Llwyd (bass), Owen Lloyd Evans (double bass), Jochen Eisentraut (piano and sax), Stephen Rees (fiddle) and Gwyn Evans (trumpet). Eaves's daughter Manon Steffan Ros picks up backing vocals on the gentle "Nos Da Mam."

As well, bard Gerallt Lloyd Owen reads extracts from his poem "Y Gwladwr" on three tracks. Only on "Gwlad y Caledi (Land of Hardship)" is the musical setting a bit at odds with the poem.

The songs on Moelyci are evocative of both personal loss and a landscape that is healing and nourishing. There is great lyric-writing and a first-rate musical sense based on a blues sensibility. Eaves has an evocative voice that is sometimes raspy and bluesy, sometimes high and clear.

The first song, "Ymlaen Mae Canaan," introduces some of these themes, coming in with a nice bit of harmonica and a lyric of resigned hope in the face of loss: "When everything that is dear to you / is broken into tiny pieces / and old friends stay away / it's onwards to Canaan ... We search along the bare hill tracks / For a path to a summer shelter."

"Lleuad Medi" is a meditation on a September moon, featuring Gwyn Evans's jazzy, moody trumpet solo. It also includes Lloyd Owen's poem to an oak tree: "Nourished by winter blasts / She drew her energy from the wind. / It was not in comfort but in adversity / That her roots strengthened and steeled. / Those born in the wilderness / Grow by their strength to endure." This could be a tree, a person or even a nation.

On another track, "Ni Sydd ar Ol (We who are left behind)," are lyrics some might call a bit maudlin -- " Life was gentler, life was better / But now she walks the border-country of our days / She's a warm breeze over rivers and sheep pastures / Having left her books and all her worldly things / And her brush and her clothes, and all of us too / we who are left behind" -- but I think this is, to an extent, the Welsh soul speaking ... and this sentiment works better in that language.

Eaves gets seriously bluesy on "Bwgi Rhif 2" with its religious imagery mixed with scenes of that more modern Welsh institution, the pub. Blues features again in another song ("Floods in Pentir") that hearkens to local floods; those in the Mississipi valley, home of the blues; and also perhaps to a Biblical flood. If Williams Pantycelyn -- perhaps the greatest Welsh songwriter of all time -- had played guitar and had been trained in the delta blues, he'd be Steve Eaves.

Best of all, the title track, "Moelyci" is a dreamy, Celt-bluesy instrumental, reminiscent again of nature and of sadness, with well-known Welsh fiddle player Stephen Rees providing the mood.

This is in many ways a brilliant record, perhaps the best to come out of Wales in some time. The tunes have integrity individually and work together as a whole disc, with musical variety, gravitas, solid musicianship and production values, and a rootedness in a sense of place.

This is augmented by the cover photos, incredibly evocative of the mountains of North Wales, by Rhodri Jones, a local photographer of evident talent.

All songs are in Welsh, with lyrics in the CD package, and translations available on Sain's web site (including those I have used here, by Dewi Wyn Evans).

[ visit the artist online ]

review by
David Cox

6 February 2010

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