Ruins / Adfeilion, by The Gentle Good
Suggested by Simon Rodway
I don’t connect with folk music.
When I make such a statement, I’m talking about pure folk. I’m more than fine with folk as a singular descriptor for a genre fusion, such as Folk-Punk or Folk-Rock. There’s nowt wrong with the Levellers or the Pogues, thank you very much.
Pure folk, likely springing from a man, a guitar, and a finger in the ear, tends to come in three distinct forms, to my uneducated ears. The first I’d call Schmaltz Folk, likely played by a middle-aged group full of middle-aged musicians, yearning for the past or bemoaning the plights of poor workers in Dickensian England. Stuff like the Houghton Weavers. The second I’d call Political or Protest Folk, and here you’d find early Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, maybe even Woody Guthrie. It’s got a little more spark, more bite, and is likely my favourite of the three.
The third brand I’d generously call Beautiful Folk.
If I wasn’t being so generous, I’d label it Boring Folk.
The Gentle Good fit this description well.
The Gentle Good is the stage name of Gareth Bonello, a folk musician from Cardiff who performs in English and Welsh.
It’s this duality that adds spice to the soup, as while he proves himself early to be a consummate acoustic fingerpicker, the songs delivered in English, such as the wistful Rivers of Gold, had little lasting effect on my musical map. Suffer the Small Birds, with its literal twitters and its smooth female backing vocals, fares slightly better, but it still has a rather over-eager “are you going to Scarborough Fair” vibe to it, much to my dismay.
The Welsh songs, on the other hand, are much more palatable, from the slow and intimate Pen Draw’r Bud to the traditional and slightly morose Mech y Morfa. It helps that I’m unencumbered by the lyrical meaning, as while that’s not generally a positive – I enjoy good words – I’m glad I’m no willing accomplice in songs about, I dunno, taffeta dresses or f**king dandelions. The Welsh accent and arrangement also adds something extra, a stroke of beauty that lends more to Bonello’s vocal range. In Welsh, he sounds mournful, while in English he sounds twee.
Surprisingly, my standout track is one that has no vocals at all, the masterful guitar instrumental Un I Sain Ffagan. I’ve no idea what that means, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.
Ruins / Adfeilion gets a middling 5/10. While it’s undeniably evocative, its almost saccharine sweet in parts. It’s elevated by the richness of its Welsh component, but grounded by the tiredness of its English. I’m sure there’s something pithy and insightful to be made from my Nationalistic commentary, but I’ll leave that in the hands of the philosophers.