Huw M: Utica

November 13th 2015 | I Ka Ching | Albums

Utica is Huw M’s third album – his first on the wonderful I Ka Ching label, recently chosen as NME’s label of the week. For this release, Huw has been working with The Marshall Sisters from Cardiff to blend early gospel with Welsh folk, and a good dollop of poignancy, heartbreak and melancholy. Very jolly stuff.

Huw M is Welsh composer and performer Huw Meredydd Roberts who plays a mix of original melodies and borrowed Welsh folk songs, mangled together with influences from across the globe, to create haunting, intelligent music. He is joined by Lucy Simmonds on cello, Bethan Mai on vocals and accordion and Iolo Whelan on drums and percussion.

Utica’s background is rooted deep in Welsh and American soil, both in musical content and interpretation, and lays the foundation for the whole album.  The album features the Welsh folk song ‘Si Hwi Hwi’, which has travelled the Atlantic many times before settling on its most recent form on Utica.

In the 1850s, poet Rowland Walter (1819 – 1884) from the Blaenau Ffestiniog area in north Wales emigrated to the USA. Troubled by the injustices of slavery, he wrote a deeply unsettling poem about the last night of a mother and child together. A century later, a young scholar and folk singer, also from the Blaenau Ffestiniog area, moved to America to study at Princeton. His name was Meredydd Evans (1919 – 2015) and while there he was invited to record an album of Welsh folk music. One of the songs he chose was Si hwi hwi, a lullaby that had been sung to him by his own mother, and was Rowland Walter’s poem set to the traditional Welsh air Morfa Rhuddlan (‘The Marsh of Rhuddlan’).  A full circle, ensuring the preservation of an important protest song for future interpretations, as heared by Huw M.

The album is also influenced by another great folklorist and collector of folk music – Alan Lomax. The final song on Utica is a reworking of ‘Worried now, won’t be worried long’ –sourced from a recording made in 1959 by Alan Lomax in Senatobia, Mississippi, during his journey of the US southern states in the late 50s, and sung by Sidney Hemphill Carter.

Also on the album is original song 'I wanted you to cry', a tale of two people torn apart by their mutual desire to reap sorrow on each other's lives. A duet like no other - the stripped down arrangement of a melodic and captivating tune draws the listener in, contrasting harshly with the bitter reality of the lyrics.

Album track 'Swn y galon fach yn torri' (The sound of the little heart breaking) continues on a similar theme. It personifies the darker side of Welsh folk bringing together a collection of traditional verses set to original music. The arrangement is awash with rich, haunting instrumentation and lush harmony to tell a tale, once again, of sorrow, sadness and heartbreak. Here's the video:

The album was recorded live at Ty Drwg studio in Cardiff, capturing the raw emotion and soul of each song. The decision to recorded Utica ‘as live’, brings out the dusty sole of each borrowed song, and provides us with beautiful, delicate moments as heard on the original song ‘I wanted you to cry’. 

Huw M’s music has been described in the past as "stunningly beautiful” by BBC 6 Music’s Stuart Maconie and Utica won’t disappoint. Through ancient songs and magical timeless original compositions, the everlasting topics of love and longing (best described as ‘hiraeth’ in Welsh) are reborn once again.

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