Fernhill - Hynt - Wales
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Beautiful Joe Records (www.bejo.co.uk)

cd cover Fernhill continues its well-deserved run as one of Wales' top bands with their fourth release, Hynt. Formed in 1996, the group earned its reputation by adding a sophisticated, jazzy twist on traditional Welsh music. The centerpiece is the remarkable voice of Julie Murphy. It is a deceptively unassuming instrument, devoid of histrionics yet emotive and jam-packed with nuance. She draws the listener in with a supple turn of phrase and an expressive vibrato. Her band mates (Ceri Rhys Matthews on guitar, Cass Meurig on fiddle and crwth, Tomos Williams on trumpet, and Tim Harris on bass) complement her cool vocals with a light, groove-based back-up, but they are far more than mere accompanists. Williams' work on trumpet has the stamp of Miles Davis all over it, with its drawn-out, muted lines. Meurig's fiddle has just the right lilt. Matthews and Harris keep things flowing with their expansive sense of rhythm.

The songs on this release have the deep mysticism of Welsh myth, with images of dark woods, fairies, goblins and misty moors, yet they avoid drifting off into the aether or wallowing in New Age cliché. Their urbane, earthy sensibility keeps things well grounded. The mesmerizing title track has a seductive sway and features scratchy snippets of spoken Welsh between the phrases. There are several epic ballads on the disc that run through multiple changes in pace, texture, and tone. "Gwalch (Nutty Man)," a surrealistic number that weighs in at over nine minutes, features the English-language rapping of Nobsta Nutts. The seven-minute plus "Grey Cock" showcases Murphy's elastic sense of phrasing and ability to handle large melodic leaps. Despite the length of these and other tracks, the disc clocks in at only forty-one and a half minutes, leaving the listener thirsty for more. Fernhill's subtle siren song is a rare treat, and one well worth following. - Peggy Latkovich

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audio ©2003 Beautiful Jo, used by permission

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