Ayreheart – Barley Moon – Sono Luminus Blu-ray & CD

Ayreheart – Barley Moon – Sono Luminous DSL-92201 (Blu-ray audio + CD) [Distr. by Naxos], 59:55 ****1/2:

Traditional folk music with a hi-res boost!

(Brian Kay – lute, komuz, vocals; Ronn McFarlane – lute; Willard Morris – colascione; Mattias Rucht – percussion)

The origins of folk music are vast and wildly diverse. There are connections to classical music, (Corelli, Haydn, Beethoven), traditional English poets (John Dowling), Finnish, Celtic, American roots and many countries from both hemispheres. At different times in the culture, there have been resurrections of these genres (the Seegers, Woody Guthrie in America and bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span and The Chieftans in Europe). The musicians distill the essence of the songs in a modern socio-political context. There is also a profound desire to capture the aesthetic purity as traditional instrumentation graces the arrangements. Like American blues, listeners are re-introduced to folk music, and the festival circuit continues to thrive.

A group by the name of Ayreheart has released a compelling audiophile recording of this material, Barley Moon. In keeping with authenticity, the album is framed by a pair of lutes with Irish tenor vocals. The opening track is one of the most “popularized” folk songs of any era, “John Barleycorn”. Many listeners will be familiar with the version by the rock band Traffic off the album of the same name.  Brian Kay brings the weird tale of brewery to focus with his winsome voice. He is joined on lute by Ronn McFarlane, Willard Morris (on a sort of bass lute called colascione) and percussionist Mattias Rucht. This version is lively and emotional. With an awareness of traditional structure, the romantic ode “In A Garden So Green” (which dates back to Scotland in 1682) has the lyrical, droning resonance. The lute play is prominent. The instrumental prowess of the band is showcased on “Mr. Dowland’s Midnight”

The influences and darker narrative of Dowland are a significant part of this folk music. “Fortune My Foe” captures the sorrowful tone. But it’s not all darkness. On “My Lady’s Hunsdon Puffe” there is a playful dance arrangement. There is a sense of historical context on “Henry Martyn”. The tale of Scottish “privateer” Sir Andrew Barton is evocative and demonstrates great storytelling. (The liner notes indicate that Burl Ives and Donovan have recorded this). The lute play is rhythmic and executed with forceful strokes. Historical connections are everywhere, from the mournful “Lully Lulle” to the finale “Nottamun Town” (which has been recorded by Fairport Convention and modernized by Bob Dylan on “Masters Of War”). The back-to-back instrumental pieces “Solus Cum Sola”, M George Whitehead, His Almande) : are thoughtful and feature the acoustic verve of the band. But Ayreheart inevitably return to the doleful themes on “Twa Corbies” (which was also recorded by Steeleye Span).

Barleycorn is a masterful achievement. In addition to the brilliant musicianship, the recording quality of the Blu-ray audio (especially the DTS-Master Audio 5.1 mix) is compelling. The mix is vibrant and expansive, without losing any of the instrumental precision. The lutes have a rich, natural reverberation. The CD mix also is prominent. This is a worthy sonic upgrade to traditional music!         

TrackList (Blu-ray audio + CD): John Barleycorn; In A Garden So Green; Mr. Dowland’s Midnight; Fortune My Foe; My Lady’s Hunsdon’s Puffe; Come Again; Henry Martyn; Lully Lulle; Solus Cum Sola; M George Whitehead, His Almand; Twa  Corbies; Woods So Wild; DDOI Di Dai; Nottamun Town

—Robbie Gerson

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