R2 (Rock'n'Reel) magazine, Jan/Feb 2014 issue: review by Oz Hardwick
I confess: I'm a sucker for this kind of record. Rowen and Gulston are both solid singers in their own right, but together - whether in unison or harmony - they gel perfectly, their arrangements evoking convivial firesides with wine and good company. Gulston's string playing - from guitar to laùd - is both sensitive and incisive, while Rowen's recorders and bowed psaltery add colour and texture.
The material is eclectic, yet coherent, as the disc follows the seasons round, an over-arching theme that has been done before but to which they bring new life through their choice of songs. Familiar songs are given distinctive treatments: 'Joy, Health Love and Peace' is combined with a Pembrokeshire Wren carol, 'Searching For Lambs' is taken at a slower pace than is frequently the case, and 'Gaudete' is given a clever comic makeover.
Elsewhere, mediaeval courtly and troubadour verses are given lively airings while, at the other end of the scale, perhaps the album's highlight is Maria Cunningham's 'Spirit of the Trees', a modern song steeped in legend. It's the jewel in a glittering crown.
English Dance & Song magazine, www.efdss.org Review by Jenny Coxon
This CD, which includes both medieval and Welsh songs, was a very appropriate soundtrack to the twelfth-century Cadfael series by Ellis Peters which I happened to be re-reading.
The album celebrates the seasons and festivals of the year. It opens with a modern song, ‘The Four Seasons’; then includes Welsh New Year carols; songs from a wide variety of sources including the twelfth-century crusader and ‘trouvère’ poet Conon de Béthune; the 14th century medieval French poet composer Guillaume de Machaut’s virelai ‘Douce Dame Jolie’; modern Wheel of the Year songs written for pagan celebrations; traditional seasonal songs and tunes from French, English, Scottish and Irish sources, and ‘Crudité’, a witty and affectionate pastiche of ‘Gaudete’.
Blanche and Mike’s sensitive harmony singing, with voices blending and interweaving skilfully, is at its best in ‘Joy, Health, Love and Peace’, but the medieval French songs steal the show, particularly ‘Ahi! Amours’ with its complex structure and haunting bowed psaltery accompaniment, and the melodious and rhythmic ‘C’est La Gieus En Mi Les Prez’.
A musical calendar: engrossing from beginning to end.
The Living Tradition, December 2014 issue: review by David Kidman
The second album from this accomplished acoustic duo provides clear evidence of Blanche and Mike’s common interest in, and observance of, the cycle of the turning of the year. Through an eclectic and stimulating collection of songs that evoke and celebrate the seasons, they take us on a tour through the folk customs of Britain (with the occasional diversion via medieval France). A particular speciality of this duo is the blending of the English and Welsh traditions, good examples of which occur on Joy, Health, Love And Peace (which creatively juxtaposes two old Pembrokeshire New Year carols) and the pairing of two May carols (Northill May Song and Mwynen Mai). Their take on the traditional Welsh spring song Mae’r Ddaear yn Glasu (The Earth Is Greening) is thoughtful, while they bring an invigorating aura of likeable vitality to the 13th century French troubadour verses of C’est La Gieus En Mi Les Prez, Zoë Mulford’s Bonfires (a lusty Hallowe’en song with a distinct Cloudstreet feel), and the quirky closing “medieval mash-up” that quite logically cobbles the mildly heretical Adam Lay Ybounden with a brace of rousing 16th century English dance tunes. Oh, and seasonal parody’s not forgotten either, with the gleeful “foodieté” of Crudités!
The combination of Blanche’s delicate yet assured vocal timbre with Mike’s tender, tremulous tenor makes for some distinctively attractive harmonies and their voices make for a powerful duetting force on the late Maria Cunningham’s wonderful Spirit Of The Trees, a disc highlight that ideally exemplifies Blanche and Mike’s empathy with Maria’s own sensibility and keen appreciation of tradition. Similarly on Ranna Hurst’s beautiful, autumnal The Hops In The Gardens which so tellingly evokes the drawing-in of the year.
And yet, their singing as individuals is at least equally satisfying. Mike’s unexpectedly minor-key arrangement of Ploughman Lads is especially compelling, as is Blanche’s singing of the Irish Gaelic Ode To Brigid, while Mike also turns in a sensitive rendition of Searching For Lambs. The musical backdrops – mostly guitar and octave mandola, with occasional laùd a 12-string Spanish lute, recorder or bowed psaltery – may be deceptively simple and unfussy, but they suit the material brilliantly, possessing a deftly charismatic quality that also well reflects that of the voices which they accompany. I can confidently recommend this CD to anyone sharing the duo’s respect for this land’s traditions; for yea verily, the dance goes on.
FolkWords : review by Tim Carroll
Wandering through medieval heritage, grafting pagan and Christian joy to English and Welsh tradition and expounding those mysteries through the Welsh tongue, Irish Gaelic and French, ‘The Dance Goes On’ is the second album from Blanche Rowen and Mike Gulston. It’s an enchanted journey, a pastoral celebration, a musical, historical and natural-world almanac. The combining of rural folklore and eternal life-circle mysteries with ancient-custom narratives give this album a numinous ethereal feel that exudes tranquillity. If you ever searched for the natural world and its reach into human lives, this is the guide you’ve waited for.
‘The Dance Goes On’ rejoices in the march of the seasons – bitter winter, promising spring, glorious summer, plentiful autumn – echoing the festivals and festivities that mark their passage. From the opening acceptance of ‘The Four Seasons’ through the new year fortune hopes of ‘Joy, Heath, Love And Peace/Dryw Bach’ and the expectant optimism of ‘Ode to Brigid’ there’s much to enjoy. Through traditional May exuberance of ‘Mae’r Ddaear Yn Glasu’ and ‘Northill May Song/Mwynen Mai’ the delight of the progression is plentiful. As is their recognition that shortening days and closing nights bring a bounty all their own with ‘The Hops in The Gardens’ and the spiritual ‘Welcome in Another Year (Bonfires)’ - their challenging farewell to the old year and welcome to the new.
Blanche and Mike reveal their love of folk customs without an ounce of tree-hugging in sight. This is traditional values reflected through a deep seated respect for and realisation of the cycle of the year – an understanding that today’s dwellers in concrete and glass so often miss. Their softly-voiced songs weave through distinctively delicate arrangements of bowed psaltery, recorder, guitar, octave mandola and laúd (derived from the Spanish for lute).
‘The Dance Goes On’ echoes ancient days with a past firmly rooted in the future to reflect its observance of the yearly cycle.
Folk Wales magazine : review by Mick Tems
Sit back and feast on this groaning table of musical delights! Blanche and Mike’s follow-up album is a kaleidoscope of Welsh, English, Scottish and medieval French traditional and written lore, melded to forge a new, original culture; it’s a no-nonsense, intelligent pagan celebration which marks the wheeling year, of Imbolc, Samhain and Yule, with a coup d’oeil to the Christian May carols and Christmas customs as well.
Brian Pearson’s ‘The Four Seasons’ makes a promising starter, with the chorus providing the album’s title. The combination of Mike’s assured, vibrant tenor and Blanche’s warm, lovely alto makes for the unique sound which these two generate; in addition, the confident guitar, mandola, a smattering of bowed psaltery and laud drives the 15 tracks on to a triumphant finish, sparse but rich accompaniment.
The delightful mix of Blanche’s Mid-Wales Cymraeg and Mike’s southern English accent provide a welcome contrast in the dual-language Pembrokeshire wren customs ‘Joy, Heath, Love And Peace/Dryw Bach’, the traditional May song ‘Mae’r Ddaear Yn Glasu’ (The Earth Is Greening) and the English/Welsh carols ‘The Northill May Song/ Mwynen Mai’. Other high points are the Irish Gaelic ‘Ode To Brigid’, the 14th century French “mediaeval top ten” ‘Douce Dame Jolie’, the late Maria Cunningham’s ‘Spirit Of The Trees’, the idyllic English folksong ‘Searching For Lambs’, the beautiful Scottish love song, adapted for English ears, ‘Ploughman Lads’ and the extremely clever Christmas-blowout parody ‘Crudités’, sung to the well-known hit tune of 'Gaudete'. Definitely music to oil your mind!
**** (must buy)