Gwilym Bowen Rhys – Arenig

Album Review | Erwydd Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

From frenetic Welsh language punk spirited acoustic music like “Yr Hosan Las”, to the spiritual reflective “Er Fy Ngwethaf” and sublime instrumental “Jac ye Oil”, Gwilym Bowen Rhys has it all covered. Bowen Rhys hails from. Bethel, a village at the foot of Mount Snowdon. He has been singing in his native Welsh language for as long as he can remember, developing a deep rooted connection with the traditional songs and music that are as part of the Welsh landscape as he is. Following on from his debut album, shortlisted for the year’s best traditional Welsh language album at the 2016 Eisteddfod and a 2018 album of ballads, this is his third release.

Gwilym is a passionate and powerful vocalist, his singing on “Byta Dy Bres” which translates as eat your money a piece about selfish leaders is acid tinged and spirited. Unaccompanied on “Lloer Dirion Lliwr Dydd”, Gentle Moon the colour of day, he holds his own too, delivering the traditional song with presence and fire. “Jeri Bach Gogerddan” with Gwilym playing guitar and fiddle is another spirited instrumental. “Cardod” starts with Gwilym’s achingly beautiful fiddle accompanying an emotional, almost spiritual vocal. The lyrics are a poem on the virtues of charity by Rhys Pritchard a 16th century writer. Even for a none Welsh speaker like me this is a brooding hairs on the back of neck moment, the sentiment and emotion burns through, with the music conjuring vivid pictures.

Title and defining track “Arenig” is another sonic landscape masterpiece, with Gwilym’s music and his great uncle Euros Bowen reciting his poem about the North Wales mountain. The album and especially this last pair of tracks are alive with the wild power of the Welsh landscape, infused with the same savage beauty that runs through Finnish Folk Music. “O Deuwch Deulu Mwynion” is a triumphant, joyful carol that celebrates the coming of spring. With some jazzy clarinet this is a closing frolic after the brooding majesty that came before.