Turn, Turn, Turn
Listening Post 139. Gwyneth Glyn’s elegant songs have more layers than a mille-feuille. Her images and subtexts rotate clear and dreamlike, overlaid with lyric tones of light and shadow. She touches on homecoming, remembrance, insomnia, protection and defiance—always circling back to the wonder and vulnerability of love and intimacy. Glyn sings, primarily in Welsh, in a softly commanding voice. On Tro (Turn), her songs, mostly new compositions, have a gorgeously traditional feel, but she leaves windows open, allowing more sonic layers—kantele, mbira, banjo, bansitar, mandocello, dobro, kora—to circulate and blend into her Celtic templates. The impressionistic Cwlwm (Knot), set entirely in a dream, evokes a big bed, countless roads and a bird “with dew on his wings, and his golden tongue sending a thrill through the clearing of joy,” the reverie accompanied by the gentle kora of Senegalese virtuoso Seckou Keita (video 1). Os na wela’i di (If I Don’t See You), an homage to Glyn’s grandfather, explores hiraeth—Welsh for longing or saudade: “The sun will go on shining,” she sings, “but what good will [it] do, if I don’t see you?” (video 2). The tone is sharper in Y Gnawas (The Bitch), a terse but powerful ballad about choosing self-respect over popularity, adapted from the 18th-century American folk song Katie Cruel (video 3). Ffair (Fair) is Glyn’s translation of a traditional Irish love song, delicately backed by an Indian shruti box (video 4). Also on the album’s circuit are Tanau (Fires), comparing the incremental turn of seasons to falling in love; and Far Ago—one of three album tracks in English— inspired by a Joni Mitchell quote: “Chase away the demons and they will take the angels with them.” Better than the mille-feuille, you can spin and savor Tro over and over and never ingest a calorie. (bendigedig/Theatr Mwldan/ARC Music)
Note: For the review of Ghazalaw, Gwyneth Glyn’s exquisitely layered Welsh folk/Indian ghazal collaborative album with Tauseef Akhtar, see Listening Post 24, December 2015.
Cwlwm (Knot): “I can see nothing in my dream but a big brazen bed,
and on the bed are you and I entwined.
I can see nothing in my dream but numberless roads,
each one leading me to the clearing in the groves.
A bird in the blue morning with dew on his wings
and his golden tongue sending a thrill through the clearing of joy.”
Os na wela’i di (If I Don’t See You): “The sun will go on shining/
if I don’t see you,
and the flowers will go on growing /if I don’t see you.
There’ll still be fairs and festivals and fun/and friendly people filling the street
but what good will these things do /if I don’t see you?
The river will go on singing
/if I don’t hear you,
and the wind will keep whistling/ if I don’t hear you.
The blackbird will sing his song /as he comes and goes among the thorn blossom,
but what delight will come of these things /if I don’t hear you?”
Y Gnawas (The Bitch): “When I first came to this town/I was called a princess;
they soon changed their tune/and called me a bitch.
If I were where I want to be/I’d be where I am not.
Here I am where I must be/where I want to be, I cannot.
I know who I love
/and I know who loves me;
I know very well where I’m going/and I know who will come with me.”
Ffair (Fair): “My love said to me: “My mother and my father
will not care a button that you are poor.”
And he put his hand on me and said:
‘Before long it will be our wedding day.’
And then he left and moved through the fair,
and I watched him without a word,
and he turned homewards under one lovely star
like a swan sailing over the waters of the night.
And last night he came to keep his tryst with me,
and so quietly did he come that I did not hear his footstep,
and he put his hand on me and said to me:
‘Before long it will be our wedding day.’”