Hugin the Bard,
A Bard's Book of Pagan Songs:
Stories and Music from the Celtic World

(Llewellyn, 1996/2000)

Hugin the Bard serves up a veritable cornucopia of song in A Bard's Book of Pagan Songs: Stories and Music from the Celtic World.

The first part of this attractively packaged book and CD set retells the stories of the Welsh myth cycle, The Mabinogian, as well as recasts them in original songs which are recorded on the accompanying CD. The second part contains mostly original songs (I spotted at least one traditional tune) geared for every type of pagan celebration or gathering.

Hugin includes one of the more unusual copyright notices I've seen -- hinting karmic retribution to those who use the songs for profit in violation of copyright -- with introductory material to familiarize the reader with bards, how to read the lead sheets, what some of the musical symbols are and what The Mabinogian is.

The retold stories follow a thread of progression and are divided into two parts: "Tales of Olde Dvyed" and "The Children of Don." In the first part, Hugin retells tales of Pwyll, Lord of Dyved, and Arawn, Lord of Annwn, the underworld. Other stories include Pwyll's lady Rhiannon, her son Pryderi, and the story of Branwen. The second part focuses on the stories about Gwydion, Arianhrod, Blodeuwedd and Llew Llaw Gyffes. Hugin concludes with his interpretation of "Cad Goddeu (Battle of the Trees)."

Each story is followed by the lead sheet for the accompanying song, then the full lyrics with a chord chart. The accompanying CD has all the songs for the stories of the Mabinogian; on two of them, "Lady, My Lady" and "An Oak Grows," Hugin tells the story as printed in the book, interspersing it with the song. He has a good storytelling voice, lilting but not precious, and these two tracks on the CD are a special treat.

Overall, Hugin does a good job in retelling the stories, breaking them down into a simpler style but capturing the essence. He does fall down on "Child Named Grief," however; the reader gets the feeling that something is missing, and the story is a little confusing. Most of the songs are well done and appealing, particularly the melodies, and Hugin's voice is smooth and rich. Sometimes the lyrics seem forced into the rhyme or scansion, but overall, it's a good effort -- with one exception: "The Cauldron and the Goat" sung to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell" and appearing in the section about Llew Llaw Gyffes. Hugin writes: "The manner in which Llew was murdered and resurrected seemed so strange that I felt compelled to write a silly song about it." One wishes he had held out against the compulsion; the lyrics aren't over the top enough to be really silly, and the melody undercuts the flow of the songs.

The rest of the songs in the book include information on the context of each song, which is useful for the non-pagan reader.

The book is physically attractive, with creamy pages and a sturdy plastic pouch for the CD in the back. Hugin's hand-lettered looking typeface gets cramped and hard to read at times, but it suits the book aesthetically. Check it out for an original and interesting take on folklore, cast in a very old tradition.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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