Celtic feathers float in from Wales in a surprisingly Laurel Canyon breeze.
Release Date: 11th November 2022
Label: Sbrigyn Ymborth
Format: CD / digital
Given Welsh is, by a mile, the most widely spoken of the Celtic languages, why, I wonder, are there so few releases, in the world of popular music, whether folk, rock, alternative or mixes of all three. Or indeed any other source. Sure, no doubt there are shedloads of specialist ‘Songs from the Eisteddfod’ and that ilk, and, with no disrespect, mighty fine if you like, but, given the Gaelic tide, Scots and Irish, whither the Welsh in their wake? There have been notable exceptions over the years, step up Bob Delyn a’r Ebillion and, more recently, Cerys Hafana and Gwenno, even if she has concentrated more on the Cornish language of late, but there is nothing like the volume from some of the other six nations. Let’s redress the balance a bit, with some Welsh, um, Americana. Well, almost.
Plu are a three-piece band from Caernarfonshire, a brother and two sisters, and this is their fourth outing, if the first for seven years. their broadly acoustic sound is here enriched by the additional guitar and rhythm section of Carwyn Williams, Dafydd Owain and Aled Wyn Hughes, who also produces. Edwin Humphreys also brings his saxophone, memorably, to the finale. Each of their first three releases gained the Welsh Language Album of their particular year, so no pressure there, with the last one, Tir a Golau also being shortlisted for the 2016 Welsh Music Prize. A frothy mix of pop and folk, the temptation might be to, too good to resist, label them Fleetwood Bach.
Dinistrio Ni kicks off as they intend, a mellow soft rock choogle, with the vocals, first a single female voice, then in sisterly harmony, finally the full tripartate wall of sound. A slowburn of a song, propelled by a bubbling bass over a shruti box, that allows flickering guitar to dance between the verses, and it is quite beguiling. Acoustic guitar beckons in the three-part harmonics of Llun ar y Setl, and the mood is of a spookily pagan Prelude. The guitar signposts the song like a fanfare. Port Samddai is a slow country and west(Wales)ern saunter, that becomes increasingly eerie, the thwak of the drums and deep dark woods synth a contrast to the hypnotic vocals. A siren call by any other name, possibly calling towards the cove near Aberdaron, which gives the song its name.
Ben i Waered starts as a simple enough guitar and voice, with a choral build, as the arrangement develops. By the second chorus the hook is well and truly turned, and it is easy to see how they are so revered in their own language circles. And hard how they have avoided earlier cross-over. Dod dy Law offers a sense of foreboding, the lower voiced of the sisters this time taking the lead. with just guitar, one of the folkier offerings, it is unsurprising to discover it a traditional song. To show their contemporary chops, it is with a precision drum beat that introduces Gweld Dim, which goes on to gave a delightfully rippling middle eight of electric guitar, dancing with the underlying keys. If a weaker song, vocally, it is, instrumentally, a front runner.
Storm dros Ben y Fâl begins with an ominous piano chord, then gradually fills in with the vocals, single, double and then altogether, in both harmony and counterpoint, the first time the male vocal is separately apparent. Ready then for a the band to carry the middle section, there is enough glissando in the guitar to mimic a harp. A song of different levels, it ends back on the piano. Ddim ar Gael is a cover, originally by Welsh language rock band, Celt. Whilst their version is a four-to-the-floor rocker, Plu give it a more pastoral feel, to my ears the feel of Gordon Lightfoot. The siblings singing here is as precise as anything else on the record, and it is my highlight.
Deio’r Glyn is another song from the traditional canon, but here given a flavour of the Handsome Family in rendition, again that frisson of something wicked this way comes to the fore. Accentuated by the sudden end. If a pick-me-up is needed, that is certainly provided by the closer. If Robin Williamson, from the Incredible String Band, is better known as a Scot, he also wrote the soundtrack for a 1983 TV production of the Mabinogion, the medieval manuscripts that offered a history, real and mythological, of early Wales. Cân Pryderi comes from that project, and it is presented here strongly and starkly. Over a minimal backing, the three voices blend and project, demanding silence and concentration. It is here the saxophone appears, as a low clarion warning, and, as a way to close the record, it is little short of astonishing.
I would love to know more about Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys, which sister takes the lead and where, and, maybe, as and if they get wider exposure, I will. Plu means feathers, and, given the way their voices float in the sky, that isn’t such a bad name. Quite what else the songs mean or are about, I have little idea, having slavishly avoided the false lure of translations, as the enjoyment outweighs any need to know. Watch them perform Storm dros Ben y Fâl here, live in the studio: