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Fernhill - Llatai
FERNHILL "Whilia" Beautiful Jo BEJOCD-30

The meeting of Ceri Matthews and Julie Murphy at Art College in Maidstone was, I suppose, the starting point for Fernhill. Julie went back to Wales with Ceri, and started performing Welsh songs with Ceri's mandolin to accompany Julie's vocals. Later they combined with piper Jonathan Shorland, and, later still in '96, they were joined by squeezebox wizard Andy Cutting to become Fernhill proper. The band have already produced two terrific albums, 'Ca' Nos' and 'Llatai', which demonstrated and developed links between the songs and tunes of the Welsh tradition (much of which survives), and the music and dance of Brittany. Now on their third album, 'Whilia', the trio of Murphy, Cutting, and Matthews are joined by Tim Harries on double bass, and Cass Meurig on fiddle, and the band takes another step along their journey through the Welsh-language dance/song tradition.

There are only seven tracks, but having said that three of them have, somewhat unusually, a running time in excess of nine minutes each! I know that may sound a little excessive, but believe me it isn't - such is the standard of the material. The jubilant "Dawns O Gwmpas" (Dance Around) opens with superb button accordion from Cutting, which is accompanied by Matthews' excellent piping, with both underpinning the remarkable voice of Julie Murphy, which seems to have grown richer, fuller - and the combination is an absolute treat. The nine minutes fly by! And it's the same with "Cariad fel y Mor" (a set which opens with Murphy's haunting version of Tim Buckley and Larry Beckett's "Song to the Siren", the only non-traditional item on the recording), and the third piece "Dawns Tro" works to the same successful formula, but with Matthews on, I think, bombo. Impressive as these long pieces are, the same high standards are maintained on the rest of the album, with the darkly brooding "Dole Teifi" (Teifi Meadows) being especially good - atmospheric guitar supporting fiddle from Cass Meurig, complementing the passion of Murphy's vocals.

'Whilia' is another fine recording from Fernhill, with excellent musicianship (Cutting's box playing and Matthews' piping being particularly enjoyable) combined with imaginative arrangements and structures carrying the songs which hold one mesmerised throughout.

Mel Howley

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This album was reviewed in Issue 39 of The Living Tradition magazine.