|Sharron Kraus — Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails (2013)|
Sharron Kraus — Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails
♣ British singer/songwriter Sharron Kraus is very much in the school of subdued yet haunting, at times foreboding progressive British folk music of artists that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s such as Shirley Collins and Bert Jansch. Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and the Violent Femmes are also mentioned as inspirations on the credits to her first album.
Location: Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales
Album release: August 10, 2013
Recorded: in the Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales
Record Label: Second Language Music
1 Hiraeth 4:20
2 Rowan 4:02
3 Cadair Idris 7:00
4 Candlemas Moon 2:15
5 Winding Road 3:32
6 Dark Pool 6:28
7 Y Fari Lwyd 4:57
8 Farewell 3:36
♣ Sharron Kraus: Voice, guitar, dulcimer, organ, recorders, drones, percussion, field recordings
♣ Harriet Earis: Harp
♣ Mark Wilden: Drums
♣ Simon Lewis: Korg MS-20
♣ The field recordings used on 'Y Fari Lwyd' include one by Rhisiart Hincks at Plas Hendre, Aberystwyth.
♣ I am back in Mid-Wales after all these years. I've dreamed of this place, imagined coming back. Then the dreams come alive and real when I travel up towards Aberystwyth on the mountain road from Rhayader, up along the Elan Valley. I fall in love with the place again and don't want to leave. That evening I stay with a friend in Tregaron and go for an evening walk with him. I tell him about my longing for this place and he tells me that there's a word for that longing in the Welsh language — 'hiraeth'. Knowing that the Welsh have a particular understanding of the way I'm feeling, that feeling the call of the land is part of the Welsh psyche, only makes me more determined to move here. So I pack up my essentials and move — first to a house two miles up a steep winding track, near Bedd Taliesin and with a view of Cadair Idris, then to an old vicarage next to a church enclosed in an ancient stone circle.
♣ Once there, I spend time walking and driving around, exploring by day and by night, alone and with others. The land around me seems alive with music and with stories. I strain my inner ear to hear, and want to draw these mysteries out, unlock this enchanted world. I take my minidisc recorder with me on my walks and record the birds, the streams and waterfalls, the wind and rain, and the jet planes that slice through the quiet. I listen and absorb as much as possible and then go home and try to turn what I have into music.
♣ I meet people who love the land as much as I do — people who've lived here all their lives, who farm on land their fathers farmed on and who claim poets as their ancestors; others who've moved here, learned the language and been welcomed in. I feel like I've travelled back in time — into my own memories and into the past — or into a land of faery. I encounter hares with black-tipped ears and lie awake at night listening to hooting owls. I wander in lonely valleys, feeling like the only person alive, then emerge onto a path and meet a stranger who greets me like an old friend.
♣ I'd been drawn to Mid-Wales by the beauty of the land, but in the background, adding an extra charge to my experience of the place, were the stories set here that I'd read as a child: Susan Cooper's The Grey King, Alan Garner's The Owl Service, the tales of the Mabinogion. One thing I discovered, to my surprise, is how true to life those stories are. The magic is real and tangible here and the people who live here feel it and live it, and many seem like characters from these stories come to life.
♣ What makes a place magical? What makes this place so special? And if it really is magical, how can some people come here and not feel the magic? I think it's a question of unlocking — of having the right key for the lock: if you have the key that fits, the land will open its secret doors to you and let you in. Or maybe that's the wrong way round — it's not the land that needs unlocking, but you, yourself: you come here and you find the key that will unlock the secrets deep inside you. Or is the truth that in any act of love, there's not one key and one lock but a mutual unlocking?
By THOMAS BLAKE; 28 August 2013
♣ The new recording by Sharron Kraus inhabits an eerie and wonderful world, somewhere between eisteddfod and witches’ sabbat. Her past work has flitted from English folk to Appalachian mountain music and back again, taking in collaborations with members of American psych-folk pioneers Espers (Meg Baird and Helena Espvall) as well as Fursaxa’s Tara Burke. Pilgrim Chants and Pastoral Trails sees her shift her focus — and her home — to rural mid-Wales. The entire record is suffused with a lovingly melancholic sense of place, the result of two years of what must have been an intense kind of abandonment to the slow flux and immutable history of the landscape.
♣ The majority of the record consists of cyclical, wordless chants entwined with otherworldly recorder, dulcimer and acoustic guitar. Rowan is a repetitive recorder and vocal refrain, a wintry trance. Cadair Idris — named after the southern Snowdonian peak said to be the celestial observatory of a mythical giant — is full of twinkle and awe, an elliptical orbit of plucked strings and gently climbing vocalisations.
♣ There are moments of synthesised ambience and insistent drone — a la Fursaxa — but Krauss never lets these get in the way of the earthy template of the record. On Winding Road, for example, they are tempered by birdsong, while Dark Pool uses the field recordings of water. Indeed, the songs often evolve so that these natural sounds become the primary instruments.
♣ Perhaps the weirdest and boldest track is Y Fari Lwyd, which begins with a recording of traditional Welsh celebratory song and evokes — via multi-tracked recorders — the ritual of the Mari Lwyd, a slightly dark take on the hobby horse tradition in which a grey mare (disturbingly incorporating the jaw-snapping skull of a real horse) is paraded from house to house, often gaining entry and challenging inhabitants to rhyming contests.
♣ On repeated listening a narrative emerges, the story of a journey from east to west, from the solitary Elan Valley to the comparative bustle of Aberystwyth. It is also a story of longing, discovery and acceptance. The opening track is called Hiraeth, a Welsh word that translates (very roughly) into yearning, melancholy and nostalgia for a spiritually ideal past. It is a concept that admits a deep love for natural the natural world, and the songs on Pilgrim Chants and Pastoral Trails reflect that concept with a strange beauty of their own.
♣ A fitting testament to a loving engagement with a corner of the countryside that remains as magical as ever.
♣ Sharron Kraus is a singer of traditional folk songs, a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. As well as drawing on the folk traditions of England and Appalachia, her music is influenced by gothic literature, surrealism, myth and magick. Her songs tell intricate tales of rootless souls, dark secrets and earthly joys, the lyrics plucked as sonorously as her acoustic guitar.
♣ She has released four solo albums, the first of which, ‘Beautiful Twisted’, was named by Rolling Stone in their Critics’ Top Albums of 2002. As well as her solo work, Sharron has recorded an album of traditional songs — ’Leaves From Off The Tree’ — with Meg Baird and Helena Espvall of Espers, written an album of songs to celebrate the seasons of the year – ‘Right Wantonly A-Mumming’ — which was recorded with some of England’s finest traditional folk singers including Jon Boden, Fay Hield and Ian Giles — as well as recording and performing as a duo — Rusalnaia — with Ex Reverie’s Gillian Chadwick, with Tara Burke (Fursaxa) as Tau Emerald and with Irish free-folk collective United Bible Studies.
♣ Sharron has been featured in The Wire, fRoots, Uncut, The Sound Projector and Dirty Linen, and is one of the musicians focussed on in Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid, Psych and Experimental Folk. She has appeared on Radio 3′s ‘The Verb’, and recorded sessions for BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Shropshire, Freakzone on Radio 6, and independent radio stations across the US.
♣ Sharron’s latest album, ‘Pilgrim Chants and Pastoral Trails‘, released on Second Language, is a collection of soundscapes recorded in the Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales, where she was living for 3 years.
|Sharron Kraus — Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails (2013)|