What does it sound like?:
Time and space might well have contrived to put hurdles in the way of the release of Receiver, the latest, fourth album from the Rheingans Sisters, but not because of Covid. You’d have thought Rowan might have enough on her plate, what with the unfair concentration of talent that is the trio Lady Maisery and her own one-woman show that met with acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival last year. Meanwhile, sister Anna is not so much restless, but counterintuitively, finds deep musical roots wherever she travels, whether it be home in Aquitaine or with fellow music-makers in Scandinavia. But blood runs thick, as it so often does with folk families, and the firm taproot that anchors these two wild musical imaginations can be traced back to the family hearth in the Peak District, just over the moors from Sheffield, where instruments abound, and if the right one isn’t to hand – Rowan’s unique bansitar, for example – you can always get your luthier father to create one.
Rowan’s songwriting is not so centre stage here. All sensitivity and observation is present and correct, but there’s no award winners this time. I have a frustration that I have never heard any recording fully capture the warmth of her solo alto, the warmth of her person, and frankly if that can’t be achieved by Andy Bell, producer to the great and the very good of the folk world, then it may be inachievable. Savour the live performance when we can again.
My feet know this is a dance album, yet it is utterly undanceable. Basic steps from across the continent – bourrees, polskas from Sweden, rondeaux from France – inform the tunes but don’t control them. But if this started as dance music, it heads off on a very long leash. I suspect Anna takes some delight in introducing us to the ‘sauts bearnais’ where ‘the dances may look random to the outsider, but they’re based on a complex sequence of steps that only the dancers and musicians know.’ That is how so much of the album feels. For this dancer, these tunes have become music to sit down and listen to.
They are not self-mythologising when they write about a ‘Rheingans version’ of one tune. While Anna may get the credit for writing the majority of the tunes, it is explicit that they are jointly arranged, and that there is a signature to how that sounds. Fiddles dominate, but you know that there will be drones, banjos and found instruments from the south west of France. These will create the sweetest of melodies contrasting with the harshness of strings used almost as percussion; rasping bows, calling to the dancefloor, find balm in evening serenade. They have generated a sound of their own which gives them endless possibilities and will serve them well, and that certainly has been captured by Andy Bell. But the last word of the album is the shuffle of feet on sprung wood, I would like to think recorded in some salle de fetes in the Massif Central. Roots.
What does it all *mean*?
Folk music is fecund when it recognises no international barriers, yet knows its own provenance.
Goes well with…
Dare I say, unwinding after a glut of King Crimson? Those quirky time signatures can satisfy a prog palate.
Came out on October 23rd, available on Bandcamp via their website.
Might suit people who like…
those who like assymetric rhythms from European dancefloors, warped through a personalised filter, coupled with a firm but never in-your-face social conscience. Yes, that’s right, basically, that’s me. I am the target audience of this album and it has found its mark. This will be my album of the year and I really don’t care whether anyone else likes it, though I suspect some here will.