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Midsummer may seem an odd time to be reviewing Brocelïande's Gathering May: Songs of the Season. The troupe of musical recreators makes it clear that this is a collection of songs to honor the spring, and that gentle season is several months away. Worse for me, this is also the long dry season between Scarborough Faire and the Texas Renaissance Festival, which means I and many faire fans like me are without our favorite diversion at the same time we are without a break in summer temperatures. But that's no reason to go without a troop of traveling minstrels or a breath of springtime air. Brocelïande has made both available, through Gathering May to fill the mundane seasons of the year.
Gathering May is the second in Brocelïande's series of seasonal carols from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. While their winter release, Sir Christèmas, fit in with the expected carols of the Yule season, listeners may be surprised by the intensity of the same form when applied to spring. These are carols, not pub songs, and it can be jarring to hear the solemn notes of "Dereen Day" announcing a season now associated with light-hearted frolic. The unexpectedly adult sound of the album, with its occasional note of reverent awe, serves as a reminder that the turning of the seasons was once very serious business, and that not only Christmas was seen as worthy of honor for its time. But such a hopeful season inspires bright cheer in any ear, and the playfulness of "It was a Lover & His Lass" or "The Helston Furry" will bring the smell of fresh earth and early flowers to the driest summer or the coldest winter.
This is not an Anglocentric album. Fans of French music will take delight in "La Rouse du Moy de May," the sad story of a green coat, and the bright "A l'Entrade del Tens Clar." Spanish and Italian tunes represent warmer climes with moving tunes like "Salterello." History and culture buffs can judge for themselves the different attitudes shown in the Scots song "Tha Mi Sgith" contrasted against the other sometimes parts of the British Empire, as England and Ireland both find themselves well represented. Though most of the album is taken by a cappella songs suitable for impromptu picnic sing-alongs, there are some intimidatingly complex ensemble pieces, with handfuls of singers and instruments layering their skills to produce a sound to please a king. The variety is sure to please Renfest refugees of any type, and could well intrigue even the least historically-minded into giving hymns a hearing beyond the Christmas season.
Even as pretty a time as May is often most appreciated when it's passed for the year. And while wandering musicians of Brocelïande's skill can achieve acclaim on their schedule, they're hard to find on short notice and expensive to hire for private performances. With Gathering May, Brocelïande has kindly made the sounds of both season and players available for when they're most wanted.
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