Forest by Knodel &Valencia

reviewed by Mark Feil

Deb Knodel and Jane Valencia's new album, Forest is a wonderfully complex musical journey though a mythical, primal forest. The liner notes guide you on your journey with lyrics, descriptions, the history of the songs, and a wonderfully suggestive narrative that sets the mood for each piece. Deb did the artwork which is featured throughout the notes and on the cover, and each piece is a visual treat. This CD is worth the price for the text and illustrations of the liner notes alone.

The first track, "Into Forest Halls" begins with a simple drum that compels you to keep listening. The tune is based on an early French carol with original lyrics. It enchants you and ushers you into the world of the forest through the use of wire-strung harp, bodhran, bowed psaltery, and tingsha. The next song, "Benachie Sunrise", is a soothing, magical melody that begins simply and builds upon itself as two harps and an oboe come together.

"Cradle Song" follows, a lullaby that features the rich voices of both Jane and Deb. The lyrics are intriguing and the music is simple, but perfect background to the tale spun by the performers. "Concerto al Fresco" is next and begins by transporting the listener deep into the forest where animals are chirping and going about their daily business. The melody begins abruptly amid the enchanting sound effects and blends harps together in a way that approaches technical and melodic perfection.

"Binwag's Lullaby" consists of Deb and Jane in their terrific harmonies backed by harps and assorted chimes. "Willafjord" is the next tune and a real gem in their collection. I was surprised and delighted to discover an instrumental Calypso song in the middle of this album. Besides being technically perfect, the song is compelling, lively, and a lot of fun to listen to. "Hwiangerdd" is next and mixes different types of harps in a reprise of the "Cradle Song". Four voices sing this short interlude in its original Medieval Welsh; the effect is nice.

The next selection is "Masque", a mixture of nylon and wire-strung harp with some harp beats. It is a pleasing mixture, rich in texture with a wide range of dynamics and graceful interplay between the harps. "Wild Geese" follows, a traditional Irish Air arranged by Deb on nylon-stung harp with Mike Carey on bamboo flute and whistle. The instruments dance together like magical, ethereal lovers, each complementing and intertwining with the other, playfully teasing and embracing their partner. The effect is as pretty as an Irish dawn. "Hin Hin Haradala" is the last song in the collection and features Jane, Deb, and Verlene singing a cappella. The tune is traditional and sung in Scottish. It begins simply and builds to choral proportions, its beauty building as the tune progresses.

Forest is something to actively listen to; anyone who puts it on as background music for their guests is going to be disappointed when their guests seem distracted. The reason is simple: Forest is an enchanting, fun journey through a magical, musical arboreal kingdom.


Copyright © 1997 Mark Feil

originally published in the Folk Harp Journal No. 96 Fall 1997


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