Meic Stevens Rain In The Leaves: The EPs, Volume 1

[Sunbeam; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: folk, folk-rock, psychedelic
Others: Donovan, Wizz Jones, Lula Cortes, Karen Dalton

Meic Stevens, like Bob Dylan and Caetano Veloso, is a musician whose influence and importance in his native country extend beyond the world of pop. His international stature is less than that of other iconic songwriters of his generation because his country – Wales – is a relatively small one, and its culture has been ignored or forgotten by many outsiders, even in the United Kingdom. Cultural preservation has in fact been one of Stevens's primary interests as a recording artist: in the late '60s, he turned down a five-album deal from Warner Bros., preferring to record in his own language for a Welsh audience rather than play industry games. A decision that might have cost Stevens international superstardom helped cement his legacy in his homeland, though – his albums are considered such gripping manifestations of Welsh identity that his songs have appeared on practically every compilation to chronicle the country's rock music, from a Rough Guide to Andy Votel's collection of psychedelic rarities. Out-rock record collectors also hold Stevens in high esteem: 1970's Outlander, the guitarist's only LP sung in English, fetches a nice sum on eBay. Stevens's recordings are at once sociocultural artifacts and transcendent echoes of more universal styles and sentiments.

Rain in the Leaves gives us a glimpse of Stevens' pre-Outlander material, compiling four EPs recorded between 1967 and 1970 and also tacking on a 7-inch from 1965. While I can't claim to know what most of these songs are about, the two earliest cuts are in English, and they're chilling stuff. Here Stevens situates himself at the end of time, charting his journey "from the apple of my youth" to "The rotten core of age/ When the reaper comes for me" in "Did I Dream?", then pleading, "Sometime I hope I'll see the sun/ Before my time on Earth is done" in "I Saw a Field." Heavy shit for your debut record, even heavier for a guy who'd quickly find himself saddled with "Voice of a Generation" burdens.

Judging from Stevens' tone of voice and the music's demeanor, the bulk of these tracks brood with just as much apocalypse and alienation. And even if they don't, the music's still engaging. More often than not, Stevens plays it simple, singing in a crisp, rarified mountain spring voice along sturdy acoustic guitar chords and sparse accompaniment – usually just a harmonica. Psychedelic leanings are mostly latent: we don't even hear a bent note until the compilation's sixth track, "Tryweryn." Most interesting are the last five songs, which boast fuller arrangements and veer into rockier terrain. "Mynd I Bala ar y Cwch Banana" is an electrified Stones-y shakedown, complete with nervous soloing. "Dim Ond Heddiw Ddoe ac Fory" is another highlight, a polished set of soulful clean electric guitar licks and enlivened grooves.<

1. Did I Dream?
2. I Saw a Field
3. Yr Eryr a'r Golomen
4. Ble Mae'r Bore?
5. Ond Dof Yn Ol
6. Tryweryn
7. Can Walter
8. Hwiangerdd Mihangel
9. Glaw yn n Dail
10. Lan a Lawr
11. Mwg
12. Rhedaf I'r Myndd
13. Myfi yw'r Dechreuad
14. Tyrd I Lawr I'r Ogof
15. Mynd I Bala ar y Cwch Banana
16. Nid y Fi yw'r Un I Ofyn Pam
17. Mae Gennyf I Gariad
18. Dim Ond Heddiw Ddoe ac Fory
19. Can Mamgu

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