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Legend Of The Celts
Image © Real Music® 1997

The Golden Land
Image © Real Music® 1999
Album Reviews
© Russell W Elliot
Backgrond Image © Real Music® 1997
Last Updated 16 October 1999

Fans of female vocal-laced, Celtic-inspired artists like Capercaillie, Clannad, Enya, Máire Brennan and Shannon and the multi-layered vocal work of contemporary classical artists including Adiemus, Aria, Lorenza Ponce, Secret Garden, Sissel, as well as Philip Riley and Jayne Elleson will quickly discover that Ceredwen (pronounced kûr-ed-win) have created two stunning albums that must be heard throughout to be fully appreciated. While vocally rich, the albums are instrumentally very powerful and deeply rooted with a Welsh Celtic influence. They have more of a progressive—or modern techno—tendency than a folk feel to them with depth and warmth arising from the vocal and instrumental production.

Ceredwen is comprised of vocalist/songwriter Reneé Gray and composer/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Fryer. Andrew plays a vast range of original instruments—pennywhistle, flute, bodhran, Uilleann pipes. Sampling technique are employed to achieve greater control. Renée writes the melodies and the lyrics and then the two put their work together in the studio. Two stunning albums have resulted from their collaboration. A comprehensive biography is available on their label's website.

Image © RealMusic 1997-9
Ceredwen are
Reneé Gray and Andrew Fryer

Ceredwen's albums feature an upbeat style of Welsh Celtic music fusing traditional themes with modern rhythms and arrangements. Their first album, Ô'r Mabinogi—Legends Of The Celts recounts the heroic deeds of Britain's Celtic kings and queens. Seeming themselves to step between this world and the Celtic Otherworld, Ceredwen has masterfully created a haunting journey in the songs from their first album. Most commonly compared to Enigma for their first album, Ceredwen's music spans a wide variety of rhythms and moods to illustrate the story.

Their second album, The Golden Land, continues in a similar vein, this time with expansive instrumentals, more vocal harmonies and tribal rhythms. The second album reflects the time of the Druids, as they and Boudicca, Warrior Queen, strive to preserve their power and gold against the Roman conquest. It is a wonderful second album and weds perfectly to the group's debut recording.

Ô'r Mabinogi—Legends Of The Celts

It is clear from the initial harmonies on their first album that Ceredwen have found the magic needed to interest lovers of modern and progressive Celtic music. Harken back to the initial recordings by Ronan Hardiman on his first Shannon album. The style is similar—upbeat Celtic rhythms with traditional whistles and modern instrumentation and mixed thoroughly with harmonious multi-tracked vocals.

The album's individual songs are quite long, the bulk of them running in the six to eight minute range. With varied textures, some are quite rhythmic and upbeat—almost dance-oriented—and others slow and melodic primarily with solo vocals carrying the track, very ballad-like. The group often mix styles wthin a track leading to the progressive nature of their work.

An outstanding booklet accompanies the CD; fully illustrated, it includes complete (Welsh) lyrics, and their translation, and has been annoted with brief notes that tell the story, song by song. The artists and their label have produced an album that is meant to be thoroughly understood and enjoyed through total immersion if the listener cares to do so.

The album opens with a rousing multi-dimensional track entitled "Porth Annwn" (The Gates Of Annwn). "Yng Ngolau Ddydd" (In The Light of the Day) is a progressive track that begins as a ballad but develops into a harmonious multi-tracked vocal number mixing traditional with modern instrumentation. In "Dial Bendigeidfran" (The Revenge of Bendigeidfran), the journey continues with an extensive instrumental introduction that progresses into a rhythmic and melodic production featuring outstanding solo and multi-tracked lead vocals as well as backing vocalise.

Solo vocals carry "Morwyn Y Blodau" (Lady Of The Flowers) a ballad-like song yet backing vocals add additional depth and warmth. The whistle used in the instrumental bridge and traditional percussion add to the song's Celtic feel. Loreena McKennitt enthusiasts should especially enjoy the overall feel of the song.

The epic-length fifth track of the album consists of two parts. "Tir Gwastraff" (The Wasteland) is a complex and modern instrumental. The second part, entitled "Cwynfan Pyrderi" (Pyrderi's Lament) begins with an absolutely stunning keyboard melody and lead vocal segment that Reneé sings in a very high register. Backing vocals in the chorus and a short spoken vocal part add depth and colour to the track.

In a return to the theme that opens the album, the track "Blwyddyn I Heno" (A Year From This Night) consists of lead vocal verses sung mid-register and absolutely stunning multi-layered choruses. Whistle segments in the instrumental bridge add Celtic spirit to the track. Highly accessible and percussively very strong with a nice hook in the chorus, this song is certain to please all audiences.

In a style similar to "Revenge" and "The Wasteland", "Teyrnas Y Sêr (In The Realm of the Summer Stars) is the only all-instrumental number on the album. While the the song builds its power with deep percussion and supporting almost orchestral instrumentation, the melody is carried by the whistles.

A wonderful multi-tracked a capella vocal begins the stunning ballad "Fel Yr Eira" (Like the Snow). Only harp accompanies Reneé's wonderful vocal work initially. Only light acoustic guitar and a touch of keyboard is added to the track as it builds. A lovely solo shines through in the bridge between the verses.

The magesty of the throne of Arberth is illustrated with the depth of the keyboards that open "Rhiannon" A highly contemporary song with stunning vocal work, fully illustrating the range of the artists' talents, this is another highly accessible number, that develops a dance- oriented rhythm in the choruses. Most illustrative of what Ceredwen can do, "Rhiannon" is clearly one of the high spots of this debut album and certain to stimulate a wide interest of this outstanding ensemble's recordings.

The Golden Land

Perfectly mating to their debut album, Ceredwen's followup stands out right away with wonderful vocal harmonies, contemporary rhythms and Celtic instrumentation characterised mostly by the whistle with Uillean pipe influences highly evident in several tracks. The songs are slightly shorter in length and more focused in a single direction and less exploratory than the debut album.

The album is again accompanied by a lovely fully illustrated booklet with complete lyrics (in Welsh) as well as accompanying English translation and short narratives that introduce the songs telling the album's story. With a running time of almost 54 minutes, there are ten tracks with only one pure instrumental.

The title track, "Tir Aur" (The Golden Land) opens the album with a lovely whistle melody and solo during the instrumental bridge. Expansive multi-layered harmonious vocals backing Reneé's terrific lead. With a richer and lusher feel, the instrumentals are even more contemporary than the debut and the Welsh language is more apparent.

A magestic string sample and tribal percussion rhythms immediately characterise "Y Bryn Gwyn" (The White Hill). Reneé's lead vocals are mixed way up during the verses and the multi-tracked backing vocals of the chorus contribute to this highly accessible moving number.

The bright Celtic whistles, traditional rhythms and extensively multi-layered vocals establish a nautical setting for the lovely, ballad-like track, "Ynys Sanctaidd" (Sacred Isle). Reminscent of some of Rodan Hardiman's writing for Lord Of The Dance, "Beltain" presents a certain Druid feel in its instrumentation. The vocal elements of the song are quite catchy with excellent lead and backing performances. A wonderful reel on whistle during the instrumental bridge shows off the group's Celtic origins and plays throughout the concluding choruses of the song.

"Y Galwad" (The Calling) is a very new agey track, primarily from the keyboard treatment, with multi-layered highly harmonious vocals carrying the songs melody. The theme is carried by a whistle performance and samples used to further establish the overhall mood.

Returning to the moving Celtic style established on their debut album in the leading track and "A Year From This Night," "Boudicca" is carried by upbeat galluping rhythms carried on the keyboard (and percussion) and underscored by whistle. Multi-layered vocals progress the style from verse to chorus and back again between several highly memorable melodies. This song is a certain favourite for all audiences.

The album's only pure instrumental is "Y Llyn Du" (The Black Lake). A progressive yet dark melody is introduced in a lovely low whistle part before being picked up by Uillean pipe samples and keyboard. Brilliance is achieved within the track by finger cymbals, Uillean pipe solos, sax samples and vocalise. Although not quite as moving as "In The Realm of the Summer Stars" from the debut album.

"Bradyrchiad" (Betrayal) opens with a lovely whistle solo with only light instrumental backing and piano to underscore the melody. The song then fully develops with Ceredwen's typical lead and multi-tracked backing vocals but this lovely and melodic song also features extensively orchestral instrumentation.

All of the group's energy is evident in the highly moving track "Ar Draws y Cae" (Across the Field), drawing together the highly polished electronic instrumentals to produce a sound similar in some ways to "Boudicca." Lush vocal harmonies, Celtic rhythms, and expansive whistle parts characterise the piece. Modern percussion moves the song along at a catchy pace.

The album concludes with the lovely ballad "Er Mwyn y Plant" (For The Children) with Reneé's tremendous lead backed by heavenly light echoing multi-layered vocals. Uillean pipes and a broad range of string samples contribute almost lullaby sweetness and a unique bass part adds further depth to the track.

Ceredwen's debut album is a wonderful introduction to the tremendously gifted duo of Reneé Gray and Andrew Fryer. Welsh language lyrics with stunning lead vocals and heavenly backing vocals carry the melodies while traditional Celtic instruments are sampled to produce a lush and contemporary soundscape to further illustrate the album's themes. Their followup album builds on the foundation established by their debut with further exploration into an even more modern motif, never leaving their Celtic roots far behind. Vocally more harmonious and richer overall, the group's second album is a perfect mate for their first; the two work quite well played sequentially one after the other, with the second album illustrating a significant development in the ensemble's musical direction.

Clearly, with their excellent songwriting, stunning solo and multi-layered vocal work, and outstanding instrumental performances, and a contemporary treatment of the Celtic theme, Ceredwen have it all. These are two simply wonderful albums worth a cross-country journey—both of them, individually and together, a must listen!

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