English mountain dulcimer player Dan Evans from Olney, will need little introduction to long-time Nonsuch members. Dan has been a regular tutor and performer at our flagship Launde event over the years. He is also a popular teacher at US dulcimer festivals, where he is particularly valued for his distinctive dulcimer technique. Dan plays fingerstyle, using dulcimers with only three strings and a strictly diatonic fretboard – i.e. with no half frets. In many ways, Dan continues the path established by his initial inspiration and, later, friend, Roger Nicholson.
On this, his 5th album, Dan is joined by English singer Rebecca Hallworth and by Andy Crowdy on bass, guitar and percussion. On two tracks, Dan duets with the great US dulcimer virtuoso Stephen Seifert from Nashville, Tennessee. There are a mixture of original Dan Evans compositions and standards, ranging from John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and Cyril Tawney’s “The Grey Funnel Line”, to a much-developed version of a traditional US children’s song, “Watch the Stars”.
The packaging is a visual treat, highlighting Dan’s skills as a professional photographer. The lavish gatefold sleeve and insert booklet feature pictures of a beautiful French mill – a pastoral setting which complements perfectly the cumulative impact of the music and gives the CD its title.
Dan’s trademark clarity and precision of playing style is present throughout, and at its best he displays a lyricism and freedom of expression which is truly exhilarating. The opening track “New Lang Syne”, for example, is an enthralling ride around a well-known tune, with some beautiful dynamics. The CD also signposts, however, a new style which Dan characterises as minimalist – the repetition of short musical phrases, which develop subtly as they repeat and which build musical momentum gradually. The standout track in this style is “Bullet Train” which riffs off a simple fingerpicking pattern, but exhibits a wide variety of musical ideas and dynamics, including a percussive section where just the skeleton of the phrase remains. Stephen Seifert’s two contributions add his distinctive punch and flair for improvisation to Dan’s lyrical playing.
The instrumental compositions – mainly dulcimer, with a few guitar interludes – are complemented by a variety of modern and traditional songs, sung by Dan and/or Rebecca. Rebecca’s pure voice and Dan’s sensitive accompaniment combine perfectly on a re-working of the old Fairport Convention song “Farewell, Farewell”. Dan’s version of a song new to me, “Columbine” by Hope Mirrlees and Bob Stuart, also plays brilliantly to the strengths of his light and flexible vocals.
All in all, this is a very satisfying listen. The sound quality of the CD is excellent and Dan’s playing is never less than immaculate – a great balance of new and old, tunes and songs, the old lyrical style and a new, more insistent Dan Evans sound. I, for one, am eager to find out in which direction he goes next.