Y Mabinogi – The First Branch, a review

May 25th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles, Music, Rev Kess


Image result for damh the bard

Over the last decade or so I have been enthralled by the music of Damh the Bard. In my mind he is one of the greatest modern bards to come out of England. Few in today’s musical halls can compare to him. If I were asked to try to come up with a list it would include Mama Gina, Arthur Hinds, and Loreena McKinnett. I’m not sure how Damh would feel about being put on such a list, let alone how any of the others would feel. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Arthur on Skype for podcasting and the pleasure of spending time with Mama Gina. I’d be thrilled to speak with Loreena. But I would be totally flabbergasted (at first) to spend some little time speaking with Damh.

Back in the beginning of my broadcast career, Damh was the first to give me permission to use his music on podcast. We’ve corresponded briefly in email and even on Facebook. But we’ve not had the opportunity to speak in person or over Skype or some other VoIP software. I am to change that.

Image result for y mabinogi damh the bardHis latest release of Y Mabinogi: the First Branch is just one more reason why I want to speak with him. His story telling skills are beyond anything I can ever hope to achieve.

Anyone who is familiar with the Mabinogi should be familiar with the content of this album. Even if you are not, the style that Damh uses to tell these stories is compelling. His spoken word style melds perfectly with his song style. Each track moves smoothly from one to the next.

That was clearly by design. Listening to the album from beginning to end is a must for the first time running through it. If you were to skip around, even with a knowledge of the Mabinogi, you would find yourself quickly lost. From track one, the two-disc set is an ongoing story. You cannot jump in with track three and know exactly what has happened before. Not on the first listen. You really do need to listen to it from the beginning. Straight through to the end.

Damh’s story telling voice is just as awesome as his singing voice. He pulls no punches telling the story of Prydyry, Pwyll, and Rhiannon. The first branch of the Mabinogi is beautifully told through the combination of Damh’s story telling and singing.

When I learned that Damh was going to release the first branch of his epic collection, I was thrilled. And then there was the coincidence that Arthur Hinds and new comer Bran Cerddorion were also releasing albums of the same general subject. All three musicians have their own unique take on the story. Combing the three of them into one listening session is truly awe inspiring!

But back to the focus of this review. Damh’s Y Mabinogi. Track one, the Introduction, starts out in one of the Gaelic tongues and slides easily into English. The story’s mood is set and grabs your attention right from the start.  The feel of The Hunt, track free, reminds me of one of Leigh Anne Hussey’s songs, Idath’s Ride on Homebrew. It brings in the tension of the story well and makes you want to listen for more twists and turns in the tale.

Disc one of this double set only contains six tracks. Each one builds upon the one before. Just as each tail of the Mabinogi builds one the one before it. It is not until after the hero’s father returns from the Land of Faerie that we encounter Rhiannon and the other stories contained in the second disc. The ground work must be laid, the battlements set, and the story needs to build before we obtain the stories of the weddings and the thrill of overcoming obstacles that the Gods set before our hero.

The Epilogue to this double disk set is not the end of the story. There are three more branches to the Mabinogi. We have much more to await from a master storyteller. We have much more joy, excitement, and action to experience through the romantic language of Bardic story and song. We can only hope that we do not have as long to wait for the next branch as we did the first.

I give this first installment of Damh’s magnum opus five stars!

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