Siger – When We Fly: Album Review

Album No.2 from Belgian brothers Hartwin and Ward Dhoore – otherwise known as Siger.  Settle yourself down for a set of evocative tunes and a dose of virtuosity.

Release Date:  13th October 2023

Label: Trad Records

Formats: CD / Digital

Brothers Hartwin and Ward Dhoore, from the municipality of Sint-Lievens-Houtem on the fringes of the Flemish Ardennes in Belgium, have been performing together for over 15 years.  During that time, they’ve worked in several guises – as ⅔ of Trio Dhoore, for example, or as part of Estebel and the Flemish Folk Caravan and, currently, as a duo with the cryptic moniker, Siger.

Well; I say ‘cryptic…’  that’s not really the case.  The guys took their name from Siger den Rode, first landlord of Rodeland, the district of eastern Flanders that includes the Dhoore brothers’ hometown.  But, of course, you probably knew that already…

They make quite a sound together, these brothers.  Hartwin is a virtuoso on the diatonic accordion – the melodeon if you prefer – and Ward is something of a whizz on mandola and guitar.  Throughout their years together they’ve created their own musical identity that draws on influences – and attracts listeners – both from within and from well beyond the borders of their Flanders homeland.  Their music is a deft amalgam of Flemish, Celtic and classical styles and, over the years they’ve exported that heady mixture around the world, performing concerts around mainland Europe, the UK and the USA to enthusiastic acclaim.

Siger’s work is entirely instrumental.  When We Fly is the duo’s second album and follows on the tail of their 2002 album, Rodeland.  To a large degree, their music is gathered and developed as they travel around the world, as Ward explains: “We find a lot of inspiration for our music in being on the road together.  On tour, we find ourselves in so many different situations that evoke certain emotions, which are then translated into new tunes.”  Hartwin agrees, and adds: “It’s not uncommon for us to start playing a new melody during a soundcheck.  If that happens, and the other person immediately joins in, playing some chords or a harmonious tune, we both know that the tune is going to make it to the next album.”

Siger: Hartwin (l) and Ward (r) Dhoore [pic: Martin Corlazzoli]

Well – whatever the process, it works.  When We Fly is a work of stunning beauty.  The boys have claimed that “the diatonic accordion and octave mandolin complement each other seamlessly” when they play, and every single track on When We Fly is testament to the truth of that claim.  The sparse instrumentation is all that’s needed to bring the tunes to vivid life; the ‘seamlessness’ is evident as Hartwin and Ward switch lead and supporting roles without pause for breath and multiple themes are packed into every piece. 

There’s a lot to take in, that’s for sure.  Hornpipes, Irish-flavoured jigs, slow airs and reels that evoke a lively night in the Scottish Highlands sit comfortably alongside more contemplative passages and flashes of musical drama, and the listener is left in no doubt – this is no careless coming-together; these tunes were meant for each other.  And every passage of every track is played with feeling, melodicism and utter respect.

Such is the variety and content of every track on When We Fly that it would be churlish, pointless even, to provide a track-by-track commentary, or even to try to pick out a few favourite moments.  Every part of When We Fly offers total satisfaction.  But, just to try to give more of a taste for what’s on offer here, I’ve tried to select a few examples of what makes When We Fly such a singular achievement.

That characteristic seamlessness, the merging of themes, the instrumental virtuosity and the evocative appeal of the music – all features that help make When We Fly such a strong album – are all evident from the outset, on opening track Orchard Breeze.  This is music to sit back to and enjoy the pictures that enter your mind, and that’s an emotion that lasts for the entire album.

The multi-themed title track is, perhaps, the clearest demonstration of the duo’s ability to combine the Celtic, the contemporary and the quasi-classical into a single, homogeneous, whole.  The tune starts life as a lively hornpipe before evolving into a slow melody which, without anyone noticing, draws in a few classical references.  Mandola, guitar and accordion all take turns in the spotlight, and the result is a tune that has something to satisfy everyone.

Evocation and imagery are never more vivid than with Irish Bird, a slow air that is so well-named that, if you close your eyes whilst listening, I guarantee that you’ll picture a kittiwake or a petrel gliding its way around the deserted bays of Galway or Kerry.  And, if experimentation with a joyful Scottish reel is what you’re after, you’ll find a terrific example in Mareel, another tune with a perfectly suited title.

When We Fly is wrapped up by a couple of tunes that each sound like Irish folk songs waiting for their words to added.  Airboys reminds me of a carefree walk around the lanes of the Dingle Peninsula – all that’s missing are words and a rewarding pint of Guinness at the end – and these are both things that every listener can supply themselves.  And, closing track, We’ll Meet Again has all the wistfulness and well-being that a song of parting needs; words are not really necessary. 

Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

Watch Siger perform We’ll Meet Again – the album’s closing track – here:

Siger online: Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / Spotify / YouTube

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