Dan Evans has recorded a “must-have” CD for all mountain dulcimer players, students, and fans of the instrument. His new recording, entitled “Au Vieux Moulin,” has a remarkable diversity of textures and styles. Dan is known for his virtuosic fingerpicking, and this collection continues the tradition.
Dan is a gifted photographer and the fold-out CD pack, complete with a booklet describing each track, is a stunning package set in France at a lovely old water mill. He composed the title track–a fingerpicked piece in the minimalist tradition–next to this water mill. The “ebb and flow” of his precise fingerpicking is very evocative of the flowing water, which starts and ends the piece.
There are four tracks on this CD which could be described as “minimalist” – and I think that Dan is correct in applying the term to this new direction: these pieces have a certain “relentless” quality, and a simple fingerpicking pattern is generally the device that holds everything together. My favorite minimalist track here is “Bullet Train,” where you can hear a whole range of interesting melodic ideas arising out of the undulating fingerpicking. There is so much going on here: there are some great dynamic effects, and at one point, the texture thins out so all you can hear are some gentle rhythmic percussive sounds which have the same groove as the fingerpicking pattern. This piece has some of the most expressive dynamics I’ve ever heard on a mountain dulcimer–ever! Dan uses the subtle dynamic range of the dulcimer to the fullest extent possible, and this is true throughout the entire project.
“Farewell, Farewell” features the fine singing of Rebecca Hallworth, whose voice perfectly complements Dan’s sensitive dulcimer playing. This song “pushes all the buttons” for me: it is basically the “Willy O’Winsbury” melody, only in four instead of the usual three-four time, with some transcendent lyrics by the great Richard Thompson (who was a member of Fairport Convention who recorded it originally with Sandy Denny on vocals). Dan and Rebecca give this song a soulful, yet gentle treatment, and in so doing, they have effectively “refreshed” the song for me.
There are some classic folk songs here too: Amazing Grace, Grey Funnel Line, and Wild Mountain Thyme, as well as some folk songs “re-imagined” in a unique way, like “Watch the Stars” which takes an American children’s song and transforms it into a soothing lullaby, complete with the ghostly wordless background vocals from Rebecca.
John Denver’s classic “Annie’s Song” features the vocals of Dan and Rebecca, and I love the way they weave together their voices. With this particular song, I have to give them credit for “not descending into the overly-sentimental and sappy” — rare ground tread by only a few brave souls! The instrumental “Annie’s Song Reprise” features the brilliant mountain dulcimer work of Stephen Seifert, who punctuates Dan’s dulcimer in just the right places.
Two short guitar interludes composed and played by Dan are here too, and they help with variety and flow of the album as a whole. They are light, modern pieces, sometimes almost impressionist, and they add a perfect dose of light and color.
Roger Nicholson, the late great English dulcimer player (see Lorraine Hammond’s remembrance and tribute in an DPN article a few years back) was a mentor for me, though I only got to meet him in person a few times. Dan actually got to take lessons from Roger! “Pavane” is the A Part to Roger’s composition “The Allington Pavan” and the master would be proud to hear Dan’s sensitive and detailed treatment.
As far as I can see from this side of the pond, Dan Evans is truly leading the way on the mountain dulcimer in the UK, and “Au Vieux Moulin” is his strongest album yet.