Anwyn & George Leverett,
Altar Wind
(independent, 2007)

The wire- and gut-strung harps on Anwyn and George Leverett's fourth recording Altar Wind sing out with an unusual clarity and strength. As they should: harpist and harp-maker George Leverett seems to possess a special empathy with his handcrafted instruments. If this recording contained only his harpistry, I would not hesitate to recommend its blend of Celtic, new age and Renaissance music for quiet winter mornings and introspective interludes.

Alas, although the Leveretts play recorder, hurdy-gurdy and bowed psaltery quite creditably, they also sing -- with conspicuously less success -- on a third of the 15 tracks. Anwyn's voice is limited in range and rather ordinary, defects that loops, echoes and ethereal synthesizers do little to disguise. It's not too objectionable on tracks like the original composition "Danu's Kiss," in which Anwyn provides wordless, layered vocals to back up George's harp. But the limitations of her voice have me reaching for the skip button on the three heavily vocal and overproduced tracks: "Loch Lomond," "Winter Solstice/Somebody" and, worst yet, "Baedon Well," whose insipid lyrics would challenge even a more accomplished singer. Even Loreena McKennitt probably couldn't pull it off.

Still, Altar Wind can be lovely when the musicianship -- mostly George's crystalline harp playing --is allowed to take the foreground with a minimum of fuss, synthesizers and sound effects. "Epping Forest" has the typically medieval, warm sounds of Anwyn's bowed psaltery acting as a foil to the crispness of George's harp, and the silvery notes of the wire-strung harp give the Irish melody "An Bristin Mire" a festive, wintry air. Even the tired old tune of "Danny Boy" sounds fresh when arranged for George's unaccompanied harp.

Not every instrumental track is as successful; the hammered dulcimer on "Chanter's Tune/O'Keefe's Slide" is rather heavy-handed, especially compared to the playing of Kate Price and Maggie Sansone. But ignore the vocals and the dulcimer, and you're still left with a handful of pleasant instrumental tracks and some truly impressive harp playing. Liner notes with comments from the artists add an intimacy to what already feels like a very personal project.

I am left with no doubt that these meditating, sun-gazing musicians are lovely people and will wait hopefully for them to produce something I can listen to straight through.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jennifer Mo

1 September 2007

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