Paya Lehane – Oppidamus (2018)



-‘OK, I didn’t see that one coming.’These words were the first I wrote down while listening to Paya Lehane ‘s first solo album. And I really didn’t. I did expect the CD to be different from the music Paya makes with Perkelt. What sense would there be in doing a solo album if you are gonna play exactly the same music again. I imagined it to be a lot slower, but still pagan folk, still with the flute as a main instrument. How wrong I was.
The first notes of Bohemia reveal a synthesiser combined with harp and Paya’s voice doubled into a choir. The music is calm, soothing, a real mix between Celtic pop and pagan folk. Then we hear real percussion mixed with programmed drums. As the song continues the sound becomes more and more complex, carefully build layer upon layer, a sound we know so well from Enya ‘s music. It’s grand, orchestral yet soothing. Wonderful music, and not a recorder or flute in sight! As I said, I did not expect that! But what a pleasant surprise.

In the second song, Oppidamus, Paya’s trademark instrument, the recorder, makes its entrance, but again the electronic synth sound comes to the foreground. The flute is recorded clean though and sounds Native American, electronic drums give a nice dance feel to the song and the doubled vocals glide through it all on a blanket of sythesiser. Overall Oppidamus sounds like the perfect marriage between Enya, Adiemus, acoustic pagan folk and the beats of Deep forest, and I can’t help myself but dance to it.
Another thing that I’m starting to notice is an unknown language. At first I though it to be Czech, (Paya was born in the Czech Republic), but no. It’s a fictional language that she uses in the same way that Adiemus composer Karl Jenkins does, creating a new world. In her own words: ‘You might come across a few songs with a language you are not able to place, that is because it is a unique fictional language created to evoke an ancient world which can be found only in your imagination.’ And it works. The voice becomes an instrument that carries a mood, that carries emotions. And as a listener you flow with it.
Sometimes Paya gives a small clue where to go, as she does with the title of the third song, Waiting For Dawn. The sound of the ocean is the second clue she gives here and this sound pulls you into the music. In your mind you can feel yourself standing on that beach, the waiting, the anticipation, then the warmth reaching your face and your body, the wind stroking your hair. It’s all captured in the music and those enchanting vocals.



Betrothal is the first wake-up call on the CD. A strong medieval/Adiemus style choir gets you alert and then the drum and bass (!) rhythms programmed by Paya’s husband Rick Lehane get you dancing for sure. The song itself has a real Moorish/medieval feel to it, it makes me think of Irfan. The way Betrothal is recorded is really clever, the vocals and melody sound old, ancient in a way, a real contrast to the modern dance beats under it, and it works, it just works. I love it.

Memento keeps that Moorish feel going, the song is pure pagan folk, tribal, enchanting and such a contrast to the dancebeats of Betrothal just before it. The beauty of Oppidamus as an album is, that it has this perfect balance between the dreamy soundscapes that are so important for new age music and the pure raw energy of acoustic pagan folk. It can be a flute cutting through a mist of vocals and synthesiser or it can be a whole pagan folk song with a sprinkle of new age, as Memento is, but in both ways it keeps the music fresh and crisp. It makes me feel not only comforted like a new age album should, but also happy to be alive. This is happy music. And as I am writing this alinea the first English spoken song, Winter Nights, weaves its way through my ears, as a warm bath of music. Just to prove my point.

Pan’s Delirium is the next surprise. We have a genuine dance song here. The Sidh meets Robert Miles. Compared to the Sidh, Paya and Rick could even have been a bit braver with the beats maybe, creating even more contrast but hey, I’m dancing, so why am I even nitpicking?

Normally when I prepare for a review I listen to an album many times, trying to reveal all the small surprises hidden within the music to share them with you. This time I won’t. It would just spoil Oppidamus. It would also spoil the whole idea Paya had while writing this beautiful CD. It’s a musical treasure trove of emotions there to be discovered by you, the listener. A whole new world of music to be found. And with the last song, the beautiful ballad Raven’s Tale playing as I write these lines, I am going to stop talking, I will put the CD player on repeat and step into Paya’s world again to explore it even more. Don’t wait to long too get this album and join us. Oppidamus is so worth it.

– Cliff

– pictures by Paya Lehane
– editor Diane

P.S. Normally I weave the technical info into a review, but in this case the music just would not let me! It felt totally out of place, so here we go.
Paya Lehane was born in the Czech Republic and has been playing the recorder from the age of four. She graduated from the academy of music in Brno ánd the Conservatory Pardubice in wind instruments and history of music. She is a founding member and lead composer of the pagan folk band Perkelt, known for her fast yet enchanting flute solos. On Oppidamus she not only played her trusty recorder and whistle, but also harp, synth and several percussion instruments. Besides her musical career she is also a gifted Modern artist
Her husband Rick also had a big part in the realisation of Oppidamus. Not only did he play bass, mandoline, synth and percussion, he also did all the drum programming and mixed the album. The production of Oppidamus was shared between Paya and Rick. As on any solo Cd there are musical friends that are quiet willing to help out. In this case we can hear Gwendolyn Snowdon on Bouzouki in the song Bohemia.
Sophia Kinston from the Australian electro/neo folk band Tailor Birds on electric violin and Perkelt friend David Maurette on drums, both in the song Waiting For Dawn.
Last is London composer and cellist Matt Constantine who can be heard on Winter Nights.

Waldkauz – Mythos (2017)



Some albums deserve a special treatment. And Mythos, the second CD of the German band Waldkauz, is one of them. When it arrives, and believe me you’re missing out on a nice pagan folk album if you don’t get it, so when it arrives, do NOT put it in the CD player straight away! Trust me on this! Be patient, do your normal things, let the day pass, maybe look into the booklet a bit, (impressive sleeve art and booklet by the way) but leave the CD until the dark of the evening. Then, and only then, when the kids are in bed, the pets fed and the dishes done, light a candle. Only one. You want the flickering light to play with the shadows on the wall. Now turn on your best stereo system, go sit in the middle of the room for maximum stereo effect (or use headphones), crank up the volume and finally press play… Zwielicht, or ‘Twilight’ in English, is probably the best intro to a Pagan Folk album I have ever heard. It pulls you right into the world of the Fae, of witches and dwarfs or the dark ancient woods of the Balkan. It is a stunning beginning to a CD that has lots more to give.

Their second album Mythos already came out in April 2017, but now that Waldkauz will perform at Castlefest for the very first time, we at CeltCast thought it was about time to finally introduce the band and their music to you.
The story of this band begins in 2010, with Gina and Lennart Klause working out the first musical ideas for what would become Waldkauz. They were soon joined by Gina’s brother Peter on percussion. The band’s official starting point is in 2013 with their first public performance, making 2018 the year of their 5th anniversary. Something they are going to celebrate with a special performance in October.
After meeting Gina, Lennart and Peter at Castlefest(!) in 2014, Nina and Niklas (old friends themselves) joined the band. The following year saw the birth of their first album Komm mit. It earned them performances on the stages of MPS, das Mittelalterlich Phantasie Spectaculum (Medieval Fantasy Spectacle) that tours Germany every year.

When you start reading the booklet of Mythos, it soon becomes clear that it isn’t just a name. The CD really is a collection of myths and fairy-tales put to music. From the old king of the dwarfs to the witches of Eastern Europe and the old gods of ancient times, they all find their place in Waldkauz’ music. Most of the lyrics are by either Nina or Gina, with Niklas adding two texts as well. All the music is written and arranged by the whole band. Guest musicians on Mythos are Fieke van der Hurk ( Dearworld studio), on hammered dulcimer, Sophie Zaaijer (Cesair, Shireen, Sunfire) on cello, Jule Bauer (Triskilian) on nyckelharpa, Shawn Hellmann (Killkenny band) on acoustic guitar, Niel Mitra (Faun) doing a remix version of Waldlandreich, one of the bonus tracks on the album, and the public of Minden, Germany hand-clapping and in frenetic jubilation.

I already mentioned the stunning start of the CD with Zwielicht, taking you straight into a mystical world of myths and legends. It effortlessly flows into Mati Syra Zemlya, a song celebrating the Slavic ‘mother of the moist earth’, the oldest of the Slavic deities. The song itself is best described as Irfan meets Omnia‘s Steve Evans -van Harten. It shows the first of the pillars that make Waldkauz’ sound so special: Nina’s flute playing. She plays the recorder, tin whistle, low whistle and the seljefloyte or overtune flute, made famous in the Pagan Folk world by Omnia. One moment she sounds like Steve Sic, the next it reminds you of Faun, but she can just as easily sound like Perkelt‘s Paya Lehane. Just listen to her eerie elvish flute solo on Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, the instrumental Raigan Dannsa or the beautiful solo on Leshy, with Triskilian’s Jule Bauer joining her halfway through on nyckelharpa. I could name almost every song, the nice Perkelt style solo in Vom Wassermann for example, but I won’t. I’ll just mention one more: Baba Jaga. It starts with a wonderful flute solo which Nina picks up on again later in the song.

Baba Jaga also features another quality of the Waldkauz sound, the percussion. It is strong, fast and keeps driving the songs on. I cannot sit still when I listen to Peter playing the combination of drums and djembe. Not only in this song, his percussion skills in Mati Syra Zemlya, Am Wegesrand, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, Mond Und Sonne and the mighty drum-rolls on Raigan Dannsa, even the ‘basic’ rhythm of Dimna Juda, all stand out because they are fast, varied and rhythmical. And it’s not only on drums. Xylophone, glockenspiel, finger cymbals, he throws everything but the kitchen sink at it, even an anvil!



The third pillar of the Waldkauz sound are their vocals. The band is blessed with three strong vocalists, Nina, Gina and Niklas, and they are equally good. Separate or in harmony, their voices just work beautifully. Just listen to their voices blend in Dimna Juda, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o or Father Of Stone, a more orchestral choral song where Niklas takes the lead. Leshy with some cool spoken word sections reminding me of the late Robert MilesDreamworld album. Mond Und Sonne has some quality polyphonic singing, even ending in a cool canon. But the best song on the CD has to be Waldlandreich. Beautifully sung, both by Nina solo and the three of them together. I also have to mention those spoken word sections again. In this case in the dark Cuélebre style. Such a beautiful song. With the flute solo, the build-up from fragile ballad to a powerful Pagan Folk song, even with distorted bouzouki riffs in the end almost giving it a Folk Metal feel, my personal favourite.

By now it must be clear what the fourth pillar under the Waldkauz sound is, its variation. Waldkauz’ sound is found somewhere in the middle of Faun, Emian and Irfan, with touches of Omnia and a bit of Cuélebre to add flavour. As said earlier Mati Syra Zemlya is Irfan meets Omnia. A bit in the style of Dil gaya. Am Wegesrand is more Omnia’s Prayer CD meets Faun’s newer work. A catchy up-tempo Pagan Folk song with real hit-potential. Ringaloo Ya Merry-O cheerful, almost commercial start takes us to the British Folk scene but soon mixes into a darker sound, fitting with the text itself. Father of stone then goes much darker, Wagnerian. It is almost a traditional Metal ballad turned acoustic. It has this strong powerful arrangement, the choral low singing of Niklas and the ladies, I could easily see Epica or Therion use this on one of their albums.

Mythos keeps giving like that. Waldkauz have the ability to give every song that special flavour, that special sauce it needs. A staccato guitar in Leshy to make it darker. A ‘displeased’ banjo to create a Ennio Morricone kind of feel for Hinter Der Brombeerhecke. Distorted instruments or a brass section to put in little accents in the music? Waldkauz will do it. That’s the real power of Mythos. The songs are all catchy ear-worms with the right arrangements to get the best out of those songs. With the percussion and vocals as the real strong points. At first you have the impression the album is just filled with danceable cheerful songs. There is nothing bad about that, but when you start to listen more closely you hear this dark undertone hidden in the lyrics and the music. Just as there always is a dark note in the myths and fairy tales that Mythos is inspired by.

Reading back I notice that I didn’t mention Niklas and Gina that much. As if they are not that important in the overall Waldkauz sound, which of course isn’t true. Quite often they take the supporting role, an underestimated part, but oh-so important. The flute solo starting Mati Syra Zemlya for example, wouldn’t really work without Niklas and Gina supporting it.



Not to worry, Gina and Niklas get plenty of room to shine too. Just listen to the beautiful intro Niklas plays on Waldlandreich or the duet between Gina’s Celtic harp and Nina’s recorder starting Am Wegesrand. The song Ringaloo Ya Merry-O is of course built around a cool harp riff from Gina and last but not least, Woods Of Ukraine, the intro song to Baba Jaga is a beautiful duet between Niklas on bouzouki and Gina on Celtic harp.

All in all I am left with just one conclusion: Mythos is a really nice album. Well worth having for everyone who loves quality Pagan Folk music.

-Cliff

-pictures by Marielle Groot Obbink
-editor Diane


Datura – Gratus et Optatus (2016)


Anno Domini MMVI (In the year of the Lord 2006), Nynke Glazema, Tom Haage, Francesco Scafidi and Lies Sommer formed the Dutch band Datura. Their aim was to bring authentic medieval music to life, wearing the right clothing and each playing the instruments typical of the time:

Nynke : viella* and vocals
Tom : Spanish lute, flute, shawm* and vocals
Francesco : davul*, darbukka*, tambourine, saz* and vocals
Lies : harp, hurdy-gurdy, shawm and vocals

They studied the old manuscripts on the subject: songs collected by King Alfonso the 10th of Castilia y Leon (1221-1284); songs of devotion collected in the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat; the red book of the monastery of Montserrat around the 14th century; and the most famous collection of them all, the Carmina Burana.

The fruit of their studies were recorded for the first time in 2012 with Fieke van den Hurk, and collected on a magical disk-like mirror. A ‘mirror’ they called Alpha et Omega. The songs on Alpha et Omega were partly recorded in two churches and Fieke used the acoustics in there to her full advantage, therefore giving the listener a feel for the sounds of old medieval times. When minstrels would grace the courts and castles of medieval lords and kings. When their music would fill the big halls during elaborate dinners. Where the nobility would stride elegantly in couples to the sound of the music. They strode, because hopping and dancing was for the common people. That´s how Alpha et Omega feels when you listen to it. Elegant, sophisticated and well crafted. A real view into the noble courts of the 12th to the 15th century.

In 2016 Datura visited Fieke in the studio again. From the first notes it’s clear she gave Datura a different sound on Gratus et Optatus. More direct. Where the first album was for the nobility, this ‘magical mirror’ is meant for the common people. It invites you to dance and stomp and sing along. We are not looking into the medieval world anymore. We are right in it! In the midst of it. The travelling musicians are right there in front of us, on the market square, playing their first song Bacche Bene Venies. With Bacchus, the god of wine, standing next to us, giving us another glass. Bacche Bene Venies is a cheerful uptempo drinking song, coming from the Carmina Burana, that gets us listeners going straight away. A musical party to get our skirts swirling and our feet flying off he ground.



The second song, Winder Wie Ist Nu Dein Kraft, is a ballad composed by the 13th century Bavarian minnesinger Neidhart von Reuental written in old German. I quote from the booklet: “He turned away from the refined ethos of courtly, romantic love and wrote in a sarcastic but quite comical manner, mostly about the lower classes.” In this case the song is about the advantages and the disadvantages of marriage. It has all the goodness of a Datura song. Beautiful harp playing by Lies Sommer, a lovely violin solo and last but not least the wonderful combination of their voices. In this case of Nynke Glazema and Francesco Scafidi. Both have really strong voices and they work so well together. One of my favourite songs on the album.

La Rosa Enflorece is just as beautiful. This time Datura visits the courts of Andaluz, in a time when the Moorish courts ruled there. Also a time of the Medieval idea of convivencia (in English coexistance), the idea that all religions can live and work together in peace. Something we ‘modern’ people could learn something from. The song indeed has an Arabic feel to it and is sung beautifully by Tom Haage. He puts so much emotion in this love song. You feel a real sense of longing for a long-lost love.

Riu Riu Chiu is a cheerful uptempo song. Here all the voices of Datura blend together so well, driven by Francesco´s cheerful percussion. The fun shawm tunes makes this song into a real crowd-pleaser. Branle Des Chevaux is another fun dance song. In the booklet it is explained that this song should be danced in a horse-like manner. Well, you can definitely hear that in this instrumental song.

Dei Patris Unice is an a cappella song by all Datura members. Alle psallitte cum luya is also often sung a cappella by Francesco and Tom during the live shows. But in this case it’s given a beautiful intro solo by Anne Dekker on her viola da gamba*. The melody is taken over by the shawm, before the men bring out their impressive a cappella harmonies and canons. Another personal favourite!

The instrumental song Virgen Santa Maria takes us back to the Moorish courts ruling parts of 13th century Spain and Portugal for the second time, as Datura play this Galician song with Moorish style improvisations. Especially Tom’s intro on the Spanish lute is particularly lovely.

Schoonlief is a ballad based on a song found in ‘Het Antwerps Liedboek‘, a songbook from the city of Antwerp. Now a Belgian city, it used to be part of the Netherlands in the 16th century. As Datura describe in the booklet, it is a song with cheeky lyrics. A young man from a poor family tries to conquer the heart of a young noblewoman. Not one dirty word is said…., but for those who listen the message is clear enough!
The song itself is a duet between Tom and Nynke. Again those voices blend so well together. I also have to mention the lovely intro, a duet between harp and viella. Or the interlude, another duet, this time between Anne Dekker’s viola da gamba and Tom’s flute. To end it, we get a last beautiful flute and viella solo. Datura’s best song on Gratus et Optatus!

Alas, we get no time to dream about strong handsome young men or beautiful noblewomen. The shawms shake us up for a cheerful Virelai (a type of old French rhyme, the others being the ballade and the rondeau) called Douce Dame Jolie. I know this song in many versions, most of them instrumental. And I have to say that I really like this vocal version. Another cheerful dance song for the common people to jump on, or for the nobility to strode. Just what takes your fancy.
We keep on dancing with Zou Een Meiske Gaan Om Wijn (Should a girl go out for wine). A fast uptempo song with almost a rock feel to it. It gives a fair warning in it’s lyrics, which is explained by Datura in their booklet. Almost every song gets an extensive explanation about its history and subject, making it really interesting to read it all. I happily used a lot of that knowledge in this review.

Gatus et Optatus ends with three more songs. Two ballads, Belle Qui Tiens Ma Vie and Je Nus Hons Pris, a song written by Richard the Lionheart, ending with a last happy dance song, the Danse Moresque.
All in all Datura did way more than just record a piece of history on this CD. They really brought the old medieval songs to 21th century. The music has the same cheerfulness and energy as many a Pagan folk band we can see on the big fantasy festivals. It is as much part of our history as the old Celtic myths and music. It will make a fine musical soundtrack for a wonderful Balfolk night. And I’m sure it will appeal to those who like the classical and eastern influences of a band like Cesair. So if you see them announced, go pay them a visit. Enjoy their music, their spirit and afterwards get one of those magical silver mirrors. Or better yet, buy them both!



– Cliff


– Studio photo’s courtesy of Datura
– live photo courtesy of Andre Willemse



* some explanation of the different instruments:

– A viella is a medieval violin. similar to the modern one. It has a somewhat longer and deeper body and 3 to 5 strings.
– A shawm is a wooden double reed wind instrument, that ends in a flared bell, somewhat like a trumpet. It also sounds a wee bit like a trumpet. Nowadays there are often bagpipes added to the shawm to make it even stronger/louder. Corvus Corax and In extremo are well known for making this version of the shawm popular.
– A davul is a type of big drum carried in front of the player.
– A darbuka is a small goblet formed drum you play with your hands. It looks like a small djembe. It originates from the middle eastern region and eastern Europe.
– A saz is a Turkish guitar that looks a bit like a lute.
– A viola da gamba is a string instrument that looks a wee bit like a cello but is actually a relative of the guitar, most popular in the renaissance and the baroque era. The bow is also held differently than a cello’s. You hold it like you hold the bow of a nyckelharpa.



Harmony Glen – Live at Elfia (2018)



I love live albums. They capture that moment when the creative spirit of the musician meets the energy of the crowd. And when that connection is there, a band will feed off the energy to give their very best. It does not always happen, but every time when that connection ìs there it gives me goosebumps. I’ve been to several concerts where that electric energy was there between the band and us, the crowd and I remember them to this day. To catch something like that on a CD is just magic! When I heard that Harmony Glen was releasing a second live CD/DVD, knowing the cool positive energy they bring to the stage, and hearing that it was recorded at Elfia one of the bigger fantasy festivals in Holland, I was really looking forward to this CD. Did it live up to my expectations? For a big part it did, a very big part. But I’ll come to that later.

Harmony Glen has become a household name at medieval- and fantasy festivals all over Europe and even North America. Dressed as a steampunk band their shows are [quote]: “An Irish folk extravaganza!”[unquote] and as their biography is right on the nose, I will quote it a bit more: [quote]: “Harmony Glen is a Dutch feelgood-folk group founded in 2005. The music is based on Irish-Celtic folk but regularly sounds from all over the world get woven in. The goal of the band is to stand out not only through their music (which is a mix of traditional and original songs and tunes) but through their stage presence as well. Harmony Glen’s shows have been described as ‘a powerhouse of Folk’ and people who attend can’t seem to stand still as the energy is always on a maximal level.”[unquote]

Until now they recorded 6 studio and one live album called Live In Bremen. So Live At Elfia is their second live album and already their 8th CD overall. Quite an impressive discography. Most of the songs on Live At Elfia are taken from their latest studio album Start Living Today, so people already owning Live In Bremen don’t need to worry, there are just two songs that appear on both CDs.

The artwork of Live At Elfia looks stunning. That alone makes buying this album worth all its money. Niels Duindam did a wonderful job on it. The Liner notes accompanying the songs are something special. I’m not gonna give anything away but they are seriously hilarious. And with Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art they got themselves a quality photographer who made absolutely stunning pictures during the show. They not only grace the CD/DVD artwork, but we were also allowed to use them in this review. So a big thanks to Hans-Heinrich. But reviews are supposed to be about music, not photographers, so let’s put that silver disc in the player.

After the intro tape, that is sadly recorded a somewhat dull so it kinda loses its impact, Harmony Glen kicks off with Dave’s Lament which flows over in Slieve Galleon Breas. Dave’s Lament is a really nice instrumental piece. It is carried by a catchy melody played by the flute and violin. Driving bass lines and strong drums give the song some ‘oomph’, making it a really cheerful dance song, especially when halfway through the song the band picks up speed, turning it into a lovely Irish jig.

This is a major trademark of Harmony Glen. Take a simple but really catchy violin or flute tune, get the rhythm section under it so it becomes a lovely dance song, play variations on the first theme, maybe mix in a second theme and let the song pick up speed halfway through. Almost all instrumental songs on Live At Elfia are build up like that and quite a few vocal ones as well. The Phoenix, for instance, is built around a nice violin line by Mike Bruinsma, with Dominique Bentvelsen putting some really cool bass lines under it.

Wasting Time starts with a laid back violin melody by Mike, quickly joined by Gilian Hettinga on flute. Just crack open a can of beer, lean back and let yourself be drifted away into a lazy summers evening. Mary And Thyme again starts with a lazy summer festival tune, this time by Gilian and now it is Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij on banjo who leads the band into a much faster pace. Just listen to that crowd join in halfway through the song. Easily one of my favourite songs on this CD.

Lazy Sunday also has that same build, this time I can pick up on the drums of Niels Duindam. He really adds that ‘Oomph’ I was talking about. All of these songs just ooze out a laid back summer festival feel. Just try playing them one after another, it’s impossible to sit still.

A different kind of instrumental song is Stardazs. Mike Bruinsma gets his chance to shine with a lovely delicate violin melody, only to be interrupted by Dominique Bentvelsen. Probably he got a bit bored and therefore throws in his best Darth Vader impression on his double bass. Mike is not flustered and keeps up his tender violin lines… ending it… …with a bit of the Star Wars theme! Stardazs keeps being like this, moving violin solo meets Star Wars theme meets eastern European uptempo gypsy tune. Halfway through the song the band really starts goofing around, making me wish I was reviewing the DVD instead of the CD, but just as easily they pick up the frantic pace of the gypsy solo again. Without dropping a beat! You can hear years of practise and playing together right there.

As I said earlier Dave’s Lament flows into Slieve Galleon Breas. We hear the second trademark of Harmony Glen, Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij. Together with Dominique Bentvelsen he is the positive vibe of the band personified. One minute he is a clown playing with the audience, the next a gifted singer with a warm powerful voice. A pleasure to listen to. On Slieve Galleon Breas Sjoerd unleashes all this positive energy. He is clearly ready to make it the best gig ever. Maybe he has a bit too much energy actually. On stage Sjoerd uses a headphone as a mic, and the microphone is a wee bit to close to his mouth to handle all this energy without a slight distortion. A problem that keeps popping up during the whole CD. Especially with the announcements and cries during the songs to get the crowd going.

Putting that point aside, Sjoerd really has a good voice. It’s warm and powerful with just the right amount of sandpaper in it to make the Irish folk sparkle. Two of my favourite songs on the album are sung by him. Someone To Dance With and Caledonia are beautiful ballads. You can hear Sjoerds warm voice in all its glory. You can also hear how nicely Nienke Bijkers soprano blends in with his voice. In a ballad those two really work well together.

This also brings me to an aspect of Live at Elfia where unfortunately I have to be honest: the female lead vocals. Nienke isn’t a powerhouse soprano. Her voice is more of the fragile angelic kind. On the studio albums she weaves delicate melody lines together that are like intricate lace. It reminds me a lot of Joan Baez’s voice. (For younger readers who don’t know her, check out the old Woodstock albums.) When she takes the lead on stage in The Golden Vanity or Cecile En Lazare I keep asking myself if a brittle voice like hers really works together with the uptempo powerfolk that the band unleashes on stage. I personally don’t think the tempo and the power really work for her voice, but listen to those songs and judge for yourself. The issue I’m driving at starts later on in the CD with the songs Hold On and Black And White. I don’t know if Nienke was out of breath, could not hear herself that well or was losing some of her technique trying to keep up vocally with the power of the band behind her, but especially in the highest parts she sounds shaky, uncertain and at times she really misses the higher notes. It’s a shame really, because straight after Hold On Nienke starts Rest My Little Son singing a capella and suddenly she sounds like the vocalist we hear on the studio albums. Her voice becomes fuller, she regains her technique and is hitting every high note on the head. It makes me wonder how a live album in a more balladesque setting would work for her. Listening to the studio albums I think it would suit her voice much better.

But that’s my only point of critique with Live At Elfia. The band finishes strong with the crowd favourite Engel, a Rammstein cover. I’m still amazed at how much power an ACOUSTIC folk band can produce. It really sounds as heavy as Rammstein themselves. Impressive! Commander Keen is the last of the catchy instrumental folk songs, full speed from beginning to end this time with Gilian starting it on pipes. The ballad Caledonia is a beautiful ending to a CD which is overall very enjoyable. Harmony Glen is the ultimate feel-good festival band and they prove it here.

Now the question is: “Would I buy the CD myself?” Honestly? Knowing that 50% of the fun of a Harmony Glen show is Dominique, Sjoerd and Mike goofing around with either the crowd or each other, I would straight away go for the DVD. Entertainment guaranteed and you get a free CD extra! 🙂





– Cliff

– Pictures courtesy of Hans-Heinrich Breuer of Heiners art


Sunfire – Sunfire (2017)



There is this Dutch saying: ‘all good things come fast.’ But I don’t think even Satria Karsono would have dared to dream that he would be rocking the Winter Castlefest stage with his own band Sunfire, only 10 months after doing his first solo concert as a support act for Thundercrow.
Nor would he have expected that ALL the major Dutch fantasy festivals would be queuing up to book his band for the 2018 season. Whether you will be visiting Elfia, Zomerfolk or Castlefest, there is no escaping the western folk sounds of Sunfire. And you might bump in to them on a lot of other Dutch festivals as well. 2018 is starting to look like a break through year for this young band.
Sunfire already visited the CeltCast living room and the song Yoyo was our February 2018 monthly marker . So it’s high time we finally introduce Satria’s music in a CD review.


We first picked up on Satria Karsono’s music when he released the mini CD Endorphine under the artist name Satria Sunfire in 2014. It is a beautiful 6 track album that showcases Satria as a gifted singer-songwriter and guitarist. His style can be described as laid back acoustic music, with a warm soulful voice and good lyrics, reminding me a bit of Jack Johnson. It kinda feels like friends sharing life stories while drinking good wine around a campfire.
Endorphine was brought out as a download album only. Although officially no longer promoted, you can still find it in the archives of the good old internet if you want to.

In February of 2017 Satria did his first solo performance at the Thundercrow release party, for their CD Drop It. He played old material from his Endorphine Mini CD and gave us a taste of the new songs that were released on Sunfire soon after. This is his first -and for the time being only- full length solo CD. Satria recorded it with the help of old friend and sound engineer Berend de Vries. But even before officially releasing Sunfire, Satria already told us he wanted to bring a band together to promote the CD and work on new material.
In the summer of 2017 Sunfire did some small shows as a full band for the first time, with Satria on vocals, guitar and percussion; Berend de Vries on (solo) guitar and Michel Beeckman on bass.



The final piece of the Sunfire puzzle fell into place when Sophie Zaaijer (Cesair, Shireen) added her violin skills to the American folk sound that was already starting to emerge within the band. The four of them adding yet another unique sound to the already so vibrant fantasy folk scene. Alternative Western folk.
Back to the CD. Reading about the short but rapid development from Satria Sunfire as a solo artist to Sunfire as a band, it’s easy to think that Sunfire the solo CD -are you getting confused already?- is just an intermediate stop, building up to the Western folk style the band have now. But that wouldn’t do the album any justice. No justice at all. So let’s talk music!

After the intro called Intro, a short soundscape kinda thing with fragments of songs from the album setting the mood, the CD kicks of with Live Today. The first chorus, with it’s single acoustic guitar and Satria’s soulful vocals, is still how I remember him from Endorphine. But the start of the second verse changes the whole sound. Daphyd Sens and Rob van Barschot (Thundercrow, Omnia) join their friend and former band mate to give the sound a cool almost Australian groove. But it’s the ’70’s electric guitar with a cool lo-fi effect on it that makes the song sound old and rugged, almost desert like. A guitar sound that reminds me a wee bit of the Shadows or more recently Edwyn Collins. To be clear. Edwyn Collins is a pop &rock and roll singer, while Satria Karsono’s solowork is singer-songwriter material with bluegrass and alternative country influences. The reference is only to illustrate that Satria and Berend used a similar guitar sound to give the Sunfire album a modern and yet old feel.

This specific lo-fi sound is actually a blueprint for the whole CD. In my eyes, Live Today is also a bridge between the singer-songwriter Satria Sunfire I heard on his first mini CD and the Western folk band that Sunfire has become today

That same electric guitar starts the second song Sunfire. Satria wrote this song on an early morning, while he was sitting on his balcony watching the world wake up below him. And you feel it. The melody reminds me a lot of My World, a song by Tim Kay, that Jamie Oliver used for his Jamie at home series. It has the same laid back, comforting feel to it. Here the singer-songwriter in Satria shines, with some impressive harmonies in the later part of the song. It’s impressive to hear how high Satria’s voice can reach. Guitar and vocals, you really don’t need more to have a beautiful song.



The third song, Ghost, takes us across the water to the great plains of America for the first time. With the tender slide guitar notes, the native American influences, the flute and the lyrics reminding me of native American medicine men taking on their totem animals to fly over their native land or glide through the night like a mountain cat. It is a beautiful homage to these proud ancient people. Again with stunning vocals and harmonies building up a impressive climax.

With Dirty James we stay in the good old US of A. In bluegrass country to be precise. This song, based on a laid back banjo riff, is the first one I heard that comes with a lyrics health warning . Don’t listen to those lyrics while you are eating. Not unless you’re on a diet that is. It will kill your appetite in seconds. Trust me.
But, all fun aside, it’s a cool song which shows the witty side of Satria’s songwriting skills. I’m secretly hoping he will include it in his live set again one day. Because the song is really funny and I’m actually interested what Sophie could do with the violin in it. I have this odd feeling it would be pretty surprising.

The next song I wanna pick out, Find Your Home, comes closest to the uptempo alternative western folk Sunfire is playing now. In an interview Satria told me where he wanted to go with his music. In the fantasy scene we focus a lot on European folk. Be it the Eastern European or the Celtic version. But the emigrants to America also took that music with them. In the south it evolved in what we now call country music. In the east, under the influence of the Irish and Scottish emigrants it turned into bluegrass. And it is this ‘American folk’ that Satria wanted to explore with his band Sunfire. Find Your Home has that cool uptempo western folk feel that we now know to be the typical Sunfire style.

With A Smile For You and Little Rascal we come to the deeper emotional part of the album, where Satria really proves to be a gifted singer-songwriter.
Both songs are ballads. A Smile For You again has those native American influences I mentioned in Ghost. He reaches deep inside to express the emotions that he feels seeing people hurt within these lyrics. Real goosebumps. In Little Rascal Satria shows that he isn’t afraid to put delicate subjects into his songs. It’s a homage to all the women who have lost a child before birth. Something that is not talked about a lot. A hidden grieving that he managed to put into words. Soothing. Sung as a warm embrace for everybody who had to go through this experience.

Mr Whiskers is the ideal song to follow up on all those emotions. It’s a witty bluegrass ballad about an old stray cat in a dirty old ghost town somewhere in the deep American countryside. Putting the odd smile right back on your face.

Yoyo, Celtcast’s February Monthly marker, is a bit of an odd one out on the album. With Daphyd Sens and Rob van Barschot joining in again on Slidgeridoo and percussion, it has this Australian beach feel again that we started out with on the album with Live Today. Ending our visit to the American plains and ghost towns.

Immortal then totally closes the circle on this album. Again a soundscape kinda song. Let´s say Pink Floyd meets the shadows in the Australian desert, with Satria putting his electric guitar skills to good use. Odd, eerie but beautiful. Closing a CD that opened a whole new musical world to me. A world of bluegrass, alternative country and americana, mixed with the singer-songwriter i’m more familiar with. A world that the band Sunfire is going to open up even more for us. As we speak the band is writing and recording new material for the upcoming CD, due to be released some time in the summer. I was allowed to listen to a short preview and believe me, it is gonna rock your socks off. So I’ll finish this review about the ‘old’ solo work of Satria ‘Sunfire’ Karsono with a preview of the new alternative Western folk band Sunfire. And their first single Jordan.



– Cliff
– photo’s by Cliff de Booy









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