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Tirill - A Dance with the Shadows CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.97 | 13 ratings

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4 stars The first solo album from ex-White Willow member multi-instrumentalist Tirill Mohn, `A Dance With The Shadows' is a lush folk/prog album that bridges traditional and modern influences with contrasting light/dark moods, intelligent progressive musicianship and lyrical intimacy. I love the cleverness of the title, the `dance' flirts with upbeat and positive playfulness, while the `shadows' brings a more somber and ponderous quality. Tirill's voice itself is a mix of hushed whispers, pleading reflection and wistful longing, full of girlish feminine charm and unique commanding personality.

Comprised of entirely original material taken from a five year period, Tirill's words read like a snapshot of various points in her life, of a particular emotion, frame of mind or feeling that she relates to the listener in the beautifully haunting work that is frequently somber, quietly reflective and deeply moving. Although written over a long time frame, the album never sounds fragmented or like a mere compilation thrown together. She also brought in a string of great musicians to piece together her magical work, and they play with subtlety and taste. The album maintains a particular mood and cohesiveness that creates a great sense of flow, and it sits nicely alongside White Willow's `Ignis Faatus', making it the perfect companion piece to that stunning album. But Tirill successfully forms her own unique identity throughout this one, and it's a thoughtful, bruised and deeply human work.

Opener `Nights Are Colder' has a somber atmosphere with drifting hazy electronics and other- wordly treated vocals from Tirill, her beckoning voice full of sensual longing. This tracks sets the tone for much of the album, and It's a hugely dramatic and confident opener. Not the happiest of tunes, but very striking and immersive. Male vocals contrast her voice in a few spots to great effect too.

The sad and lyrically honest `Don't Dare To Love Me' has mournful flute with just a hint of danger, weaving around a swirling atmosphere of acoustic guitar, gentle percussion and eerie synths. I have a feeling this story didn't have a happy ending, and it brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it.

`Winter Roses' is more upbeat with a pleasing repeated chorus, making superb use of her multi- tracked voice to bring a soothing and cooing sound to the piece. Listen to how well the sparse and slowly unwinding electric guitar solo falls in alongside Tirill's quietly effective violin. Slightly more uplifting tracks like this help balance the album out so it's not always so glum.

The medieval flavoured `June's Flowers' has a dramatic classical guitar theme, with stirring cello and flute. Despite a rather sweet opening melody, the piece turns quite negative and cold throughout many moments. This track reminds me a little of Loreena Mckennett, though not as over-thought or overproduced. The simplicity and restraint of this one is it's greatest strength.

Lyrics like `Dressed In Beauty's "I gaze at the trees' reflections in the water, my heart untroubled and free, but awondering..." perfectly encapsulates the entire album for me. It's a dreamy gothic piece that utilizes Tirill's musical guests to great effect with a captivating mix of violin, keyboards, bass, nylon string and electric guitar to create a lot of light and shade. Especially listen for the deeply psychedelic and droning middle section with the mix of her multi-tracked choir vocals and swirling instrumentation! Very impressive track that really keeps you on edge due to the abrupt and tense direction changes.

The seriously unnerving synth dirge `Heavy Heaves' has a despondent and resigned Tirill whispering over a backdrop of dark keyboard tones, ghostly flute and taunting chanted voices backed to a thunderstorm. Very draining, yet also very effective and striking, it sounds like nothing else on the album, and even hints at a direction she might like to revisit on a future work?

Then `Vendela' hits you right in the face - a heavy and obsessive gothic fairytale, that opens with very harsh metallic percussion and musical malevolence. Vocally Tirill takes a back seat on this one, handing the male and female leads to future White Willow lady Sylvia Erichsen and Odd Hakon Solbakken. But the musical arrangement is very dramatic and rich, with dark jazzy moments, brooding melodrama and a lurking malaise. It reminds me of a mix of gloomy trip- hoppers Portishead and Swedish misery-mongers Paatos' debut album` Timeloss', it's also the longest track on the album, and the one that sounds the most like her previous band White Willow.

`Golds Of Morning' sounds quite like the first track, but this time a lush orchestral arrangement with some beautifully poetic light/dark contrasting lyrics full of rich detail and a majestic classical folk- styled flute finale. Yet another wondrous piece.

Accordion and clarinet carry `It Was Blue', a simple but delicate acoustic story with wistful longing and deeply romantic lyrics. Just beautiful. The instrumentation is carefully played, but I could easily imagine Tirill performing this one just as well on her acoustic guitar alone.

`Ruby' is another historical Loreena Mckennitt styled number, with violin and clarinet giving the piece a very serious and almost morbid sound. The intricate and richly dramatic words sound like an old poem brought to life, although this one is much harder to interpret. Just another reason to give the album more time and attention to unlock it's treasures.

The album closes on the acoustic lullaby `When You Sleep' with warm and occasional vocal playfulness from Tirill. It's strangely soothing and comforting while still retaining the album's gentle melancholy due to more lulling accordion and the down-tempo melody. It's a very restrained arrangement, and you really focus on Tirill's voice and purring words in this one. It's the perfect way to wrap the album without leaving the listener withdrawn and unhappy from the gloomier and heavier pieces that make up parts of the rest of the album.

The album has now been given a new reissue on both CD and vinyl, renamed `Tales From The Tranquil August Gardens' and given the addition of some bonus tracks. It was originally released on the late Michael Piper's label `The Wild Places', which is the version I own. Michael was a wonderful progressive music vendor many of us remember fondly, and I feel there's no greater tribute than owning this sublime album.

From the mysterious front cover image of Tirill, to the semi-erotic and free-spirited photographs of her inside, to the lovingly reproduced lyrics in the CD sleeve, `A Dance With The Shadows' is a timeless folk work of maturity and sophistication, rich with exquisite instrumental playing, subtle arrangements and wonderfully charming female vocals from a contemplative and unique artist.

Like the different seasons that particular pieces were written in that Tirill lists in the album sleeve, `A Dance With The Shadows' offers a great variety of moods and emotions for any occasion, and it's beauty and fragile compositions will ensure an album you'll treasure forever.

Four and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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