In Gowan Ring – Hazel steps through a weathered home

This album by In Gowan Ring, the psychedelic folk project around B’Eirth, contains material recorded in the period 1999-2001. “Hazel steps…” was originally made available by Bluesanct in 2002. Now the young Swiss label Shayo has released a welcome reissue. It comes as a nice digipack, with a 16-page booklet containing all the lyrics. The album was remastered by Denis Blackham and the sound quality sounds superb, take for instance the clearity of the strings. Furthermore there is a bonus ninth track present, which remains uncredited on the cover. The album remains a wonderful example of traditional folk full of poetry and atmosphere. The review below was originally written for the 2002 release.

I really appreciate the albums I own of In Gowan Ring (“Love Charms” and ‘Abend the knurled stitch”), so I was excited to listen to this new album. In Gowan Ring is the poetic project around B’eirth, who is as always supported by various talented musicians. The previous albums brought us tranquil, traditional folk music, with a touch of 60’s psychedelica, and the new album continues this line.

The music of In Gowan Ring is rather timeless, archaic perhaps but not from a clearly-defined period. The songs are even more minimal than before, but highly effective. Many songs consist of not much more than acoustic guitar or piano and B’eirths soft soothing voice, a few compositions have a richer instrumentation. Amongst the musical guests are Annabel Lee and Michael Moynihan, both of Blood Axis fame, taking care of violin/viola and bodhran. Other instruments you can hear on this album are alto and tenor sackbut (?), piano and violincello, as well as self-fabricated guitar, cittern and harp.

The poetic lyrics are rather introspective and melancholic. “The poetic formations here reflect upon this life-world as an often traversed habitation. The enigmas of nostalgia, impermanence and existential transcendence are recurrent”. This may sound a little hermetic, but most images evoked by the texts are quite clear. Recurrent themes in all poems are the passing of time and nature (“Every hour of every day, every leaf on every tree”).

The songs are really a pleasure to listen to. Though most melodies are quite simple, they will get you in their spell. The only thing I perhaps miss are some songs that really stand out, like ‘To Thrum a glassy stem’ and ‘Bow Star’ of the previous album. The album as a (very coherent) whole is very moving, solemn and melancholic, but it does not make me sad. When I listen to “Hazel steps though a weathered home” I get the feeling that spring must be near… Really a recommended album, that is available in a few very nice special editions.

Careless as a willow
Constant as an oak
Ages churn and wallow
Through hands pass as they grope
Past and future splayed astride
The hollow heaving chest
Gnarled hands curve to inscribe
The fading notion useless

artist: In Gowan Ring
label: Shayo Records
details: 9 tracks, reissue 2005 [shayo 005]