?Spirit of Albion? is the third album from Dave Smith, aka, Damh, a Druid Bard and member of the Pagan Federation (who won the title ?Bard of Wessex? at the 1997 Eisteddfod Festival in Portsmouth). The heartily-strummed, anthemic title track opens this collection of mainly acoustic, often nationalistic, Celtic folk songs which weave a brilliant tapestry of mythological tales and modern-day love songs. The spirit of Albion continues through ?Taliesin?s Song,? with references to Merlin, Arthur, and Galahad, as well as the ancient Gods, Manawyddan, Ceridwen, Arienrhod, et. al. [Taliesin is one of the chief Druid seer-poets, and much of modern Druid teaching stems from his poetry.]
The tender, cyclical tale of ?The Wheel? celebrates birth, death and rebirth, as our hero passes through the seasons, from ?sunrise on the shortest day? until ?the waves of corn have turned to gold? and Mother Earth symbolically kills him, sending him off to the Otherworld to await his return. I believe the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, so the poem/song personifies Winter as he rules the earth until his ?death? and the arrival of Spring. It took a few listens, but once it hit me, I realised how brilliant a lyric the Bard had fashioned. [I only hope my interpretation is correct!] A similar representation of the changing of the seasons also runs through ?Noon of The Solstice,? a rousing tale propelled by a Pied Piperish flute as the title character (variously identified as ?The Green Man,? Cernunnos, Pan and Herne) watches from the woods (?in the deepest wildwood was the place he was seen?) over the battle between ?dark and light leaves? as Winter turns to Summer.
Eala duets with the Bard on the mournful, anti-war lullabye, ?Morrighan,? the mythological Celtic goddess of battle, which yields to the tender, acoustic (possibly semi-autobiographical) ballad of frustration, lost opportunities, and heartbreaking memories of what could have been, ?Save Me.? Our hero realises that what has passed by cannot be and he pleads for someone to save him from his reverie ? to help him accept reality and understand that he cannot live his life in a fairy tale of ?what-could-have-been?s.? An album highlight, I?ll be returning to this one often, particularly whenever I catch myself drifting nostalgically into a thousand yard stare, wondering how life could have changed if I took the left fork in the road instead of the right.
?Oak, Broom & Meadowsweet? is another anthemic tale from Welsh mythology, recounting the battle between Arianrhod and Gwydion over Arianrhod?s son (?The Forest King,? whom she disowned and was raised by Gwydion). Arianrhod places several curses on her son, only to be foiled by Gwydion, until finally The Forest King weds the Lady of Spring, Blodeuwedd. It?s all fascinating stuff, all the more intriguing thanks to the exciting musical backdrop against which this morality tale plays out. Damh introduces strings on the elaborately produced ?The Sun and The Rose,? a straightforward love song that reeks a little too much of Top 40 schmaltz a la Barry Manilow or Michael Bolton for my taste. As such, it would probably make a small nest egg for Dham is he could convince, say a Robbie Williams to have a go at it. For the rest of us, it should be noted that this is not really indicative of the spirit of Albion that pervades the album. So while we may damn the Bard (sorry, but I?m sure you saw that one coming), we won?t begrudge him his attempt at making a few extra shillings to fund further serious efforts.
While a familiarity with Druidism will greatly enhance your enjoyment of ?Spirit of Albion,? it is by no means a necessity for the ignorant among us to enjoy these lovely, acoustic folk ballads, proud, nationalistic anthms and sorrowful tales of love, war, death?in essence, life! As one might expect, this would make a fascinating soundtrack to a (physical or armchair) romp through the sites described in such vivid detail in Julian Cope?s ?Modern Antiquarian.? Several of the songs included here were among the first Pagan songs Damh wrote (?Noon of The Solstice? and ?Oak, Broom, and Meadowsweet?), and he first performed them live a decade ago on the Spring Equinox at the Avebury stone circle in Cope?s neighborhood in Wiltshire. A surprising and wonderful new discovery, and highly recommended to fans of our own druidian, pagan bards, Prydwyn and B?Eirth. We?re definitely going to check out his other disks, as well as ?None But Seven? (the 1999 album he cut with his band, Spiral Castle). Although the latter is out of print and may be hard to track down, we can console ourselves in the fact that six of its eight tracks are re-recorded here. (Jeff Penczak) [Note: In addition to ordering the CD directly from Damh at the link above, ?Spirit of Albion? is also available via the excellent legal download service at Woven Wheat Whispers.] 9/10 -- Jeff Penczak (27 February, 2007)