It has been a very long time since I have listened to any of my Simon and Garfunkel records. To state the obvious, they were a significant duo of particular influence during my musical neophyte days. Fond memories of long road trips with the family come back with songs like ‘Boy in a Bubble’, ’59th Street Bridge Song’, and the timeless masterpiece, ‘The Boxer’.
These memories create a pensive and nostalgic frame of mind that leaves me wondering how far I have come both as a fan of music and as a man in general. My entrance into the world was at the end of their meridian in terms of songwriting, but it set a noteworthy precedent on that particular era’s brand of folk music. This brand has gone unrivalled since their days as relevant titans of the music industry, and Simon and Garfunkel still remain a key influence on professional artists today, folk music and otherwise.
In Gowan Ring didn’t grab my attention to the extent that I had expected them to at first. When I received my copy of Faun’s Live at the Pagan Folk Festival, which also featured both In Gowan Ring and the ever-impressive Sieben, the song ‘Dandelion Wine’ seemed slightly out-of-place amongst the energetic reputation of the German medieval folk act. There is no questioning lead singer B’ee’s vocal ability and charming presence though. I was too busy to catch the split-EP release with B’ee’s other project, Birch Book, in what would become In Gowan Ring’s first release with the French Les Disques du 7ème Ciel imprint, but a retrospective listen will show that the litmus test revealed a positive reading, leaving the pathway for this masterpiece set in stone.
Neofolk as a genre in the modern day has become a very broad-brush term. To consider the genre’s name with little understanding of what acts, and more importantly, sounds have fallen into the scene, any educated music lover would consider the music to be that which has become released beyond the two folk revivals of the twentieth century. With The Serpent and the Dove, the production, arrangements, and vocals are strongly reminiscent of folk music’s golden era. I won’t open the debate on exactly when this ‘golden era’ occurred, but the music and lyrics take you to a poetic and bygone era—an era of bards and skalds wandering the countryside, bringing tales and news of what lay beyond the reach of the common man. In identical format, In Gowan Ring delve back into that lost void and take you on a timeless journey into the roots of modern music with distinct influence from the Celts, nature, and folklore.
‘Sial at Play’ begins with a collage of flute/wind instruments; the entrance of strings and the polished voice of B’ee immediately take me back to the aforementioned memory of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’.
‘Field of Dream’ will take you on a vivid journey, a journey that you will repeat more than once as it encourages your mind to take you to a different vision with every reprise. It’s a poetic tale of starlight, windswept landscapes, and a ‘great bowl of tea’. The inclusion of what seems to be a hurdy-gurdy coupled with the record’s best display of B’ee’s vocal ability. This is a song that I would define as ‘epic’ if played live and with a bit more of that Faun’s gusto.
If you were fortunate enough to acquire copies of In Gowan Ring’s self-released CD-Rs, Webs Among the Din (Volumes I-III), you are holding onto some very collectible records. I say this because The Serpent and the Dove is going to attract a new generation of fans. As a music critic, I will say that this record will be hard to top. It has been the most distracting record on my writing pile to date. The saying ‘poetry in motion’ has been widely used to describe many aspects of and interests in life from dressage horse riding, elite athletes, ballet, et al. I’m personally tempted to dub The Serpent and the Dove as ‘poetry in music’. If In Gowan Ring is waiting for their ‘golden parachute’, now is the time!
01) The Serpent
02) Thousands of Bees
03) Sial at Play
04) Julia Willow
05) Set a Candle in the Night
06) Field of Dream
07) A Song, a Story and a Stone
08) The Dove