What does the Firelight Trio sound like?
European folk in its most traditional and virtuoso sense.
The review of Firelight Trio – Firelight Trio
There is something wonderfully geographic and travelogue-like about the self-titled debut from Firelight Trio. Gavin Marwick brings the fiddle, Ruth Morris the nyckelharpa and Phil Alexander the accordion and piano. Between them, they travel the European continent in search of folk songs known and forgotten in this bountiful return to the very roots of folk music.
Across the album’s 11 tracks, we embrace the Klezmer side of folk with full abandon, visit the Scottish highlands, enjoy a few Polska, jigs and pop to Latvia too. Everything that comes from the trio feels effortlessly and flowing. Some of the tunes required research to bring back from the dead, whilst others are originals such as ‘Rooftop Chorale’ which closes the main album in a reflective and quiet mood. Just don’t expect to stop jigging most of the way there!
I’m not an academic so I don’t understand all the musical intricacies on display from a historical context but I love a good folk dance and this album is chock full of them. The complex accordion, fiddle and nyckelharpa in ‘The Wages of Gin – Java St Andrews’ is just as dangerous as it is effervescent. The way the music pivots and evolves like an endless pirouette is something to admire. Elsewhere ‘Scicki Micki – Acrobats Bridge’ mixes French and Yiddish flair like a country pub celebration. ‘The Berlin Jig’ feels so homely and warm, whilst the rigid and colder ‘Balkan Polska’ balances romanticism and authority on a dime. It’s the interplay between Gavin, Ruth and Phil that wins you over. Their arrangements and playing are interwoven in such a way, you’d never realise it’s only three of them – it sounds like a much larger band at work.
There are a couple of real standouts for me. The first is ‘The Scottish Set’ which weaves four separate songs together with astounding dexterity. The fiddle work on show energises to a fever-pitch towards the end and the set is so satisfying to listen to, it leaves you breathless and with a beaming smile. Interestingly, the other standout is the yearning and longing of the baroque romantic piece ‘The Radical Road – Roeselare’. The piano-based piece turns into a passionate affair with lush intertwined fiddle and nyckelharpa sounding like their own string quartet. It is one of the most melodically strong pieces on the album because it takes its time getting to the bold motifs, whereas many of the other pieces are feelings and emotions first.
For anyone who enjoys traditional European folk – this is a top-tier recommendation. Firelight Trio have brought unknown traditional songs back to life in technicolour and it’s a joy to listen to. The original pieces hold their own too – you’d never know which was which. That shows just how well-researched and structured the craft of songwriting in the trio is. All these songs could be from the 17th or 18th century right through to the early 1920s. They sound timeless and effortless and full of life and that’s the best version of folk we can ask for.
Recommended track: The Radical Road – Roeselare
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