OxFolk Review: ‘Already Home’

Ben Ray discusses 'Already Home', the latest release by The Rheingans Sisters

There is something wonderfully unearthly and ethereal about Anna and Rowan Rheingans’ music: one cannot help but get the feeling of being almost lifted up by their beautiful voices and soft harmonies. ‘Already Home’, their second album, shows a confident and experimental approach to folk music. Using their skills on a wide range of instruments, from Jew’s harp, banister and feet to the sound of birdsong and rain, they weave a tapestry that is not only technically but aesthetically beautiful- each tune leads smoothly into the next in such a way that one can’t help but listen to the album in a single sitting.

Designed to ‘explore the links between music rooted in different places, between old songs and new and between two players of distinct style and difference’, this album presents varied layers of interest the more one listens to it. In a mixture of traditional song and original composition, Anna and Rowan jump from a hypnotising polska to a beguiling bourree from the Artenes region of Auvergne. This versatility and breadth of style is nothing less than to be expected from the Rheingans Sisters: Anna lives in southern France and has gained a 1st class diploma from the Conservatioire Occitan, whilst Rowan is part of the highly acclaimed trio Lady Maisery and has worked with some of the best folk musicians currently playing. Whilst they have spent much time apart, their close connection is clearly there in the music- the fact that their father has is a violin-maker and they both use his instruments in these recordings gives a sense of just how personal and intimate this music is. Many of the traditional songs have been taught to them or w picked up, whilst the original tunes are often written in response to a life event: ‘Sjung I Stilla’ is a Swedish hymn sung in the Rheingans’ school choir, whilst ‘Dancing in the Cow Shed’ was written by Rowan after being inspired by the spring in West Yorkshire. With each track containing a backstory and a heritage that is explained in detail within the beautiful fold-out album cover, ‘Already Home’ becomes a conversation between the reader and the listener.

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The album is full of wonderful surprises too- whether it be the slightly off-beat percussion in the French dance tune ‘Banjo Branle’ or the beautiful banjo accompaniment of ‘Slangpolska Pour Une Auvergnate’, everywhere you turn in this music there is a new aspect to admire and enjoy. And, with the far-reaching geographical range in this album, it is fitting that the well-titled ‘Already Home’ ends the track ‘Keep The Whole Thing Turning’, a song ‘inspired by the universal desire… to carry on dancing’. There is much to dance about, and much to celebrate, in The Rheingans Sisters’ latest work.