Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales / Yn Rio / Légère Recordings – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

The sublime collaboration between Carwyn Ellis and Rio 18 strikes again, as the Welsh wizard of song whips up some more sumptuous Brasileiro beats topped off with a golden sauce of beautiful Brittonic, Cymraeg, y Gymraeg, lyrics – this time with the aid of the Welsh National Orchestra – stirred into the pot for added oomph. The resultant heady brew has been turning the heads of many a Balearically-minded listener: safe to say that Moonboots is a big fan which is probably all the bona fides you need right there.

There is a touch of genius in the entwining of those sun-kissed Bahian grooves with the lyrical allure of the Welsh language – so unexpected and yet so demonstrably right and proper – it works an absolute treat. Hats off to everyone involved for putting the two halves together and coming up with such a satisfying whole. The addition of the orchestra adds a whole new heft to the enterprise of course: the massed strings providing the lushest of beds for the sinuous grooves. Whether it’s the joyous, Jorge Ben-inspired Ola with its hints of the classic Ponta De Lanca, Africano, or the softer romanticism of Cariad, Cariad, the songs flourish in the space provided by the larger format, as they blossom into a wonderful architectural beauty. The strings and the horns embellishing rather than overpowering the small group dynamics. This is classy, assured songwriting given a turbo injection.

The whole album is a joy, and slots neatly into Ellis’s ever-expanding oeuvre. From fronting Colorama to working with Edwyn Collins and playing in The Pretenders, this is a man who spreads his musical net far and wide. He’s got the chops, without a doubt: but this venture may just be the best thing he’s done. The video for YnYs Aur pulls the curtain back beautifully: one man, a uke and the massed orchestral ranks combine in a perfect poetic union: this is spine-tingling stuff – the wonderful strings sounding more romantic than a season of Cary Grant films.

It`s life-affirming stuff, this connection that has snaked its way from South Wales to Brazil and back. It`s another example, should it be needed, of the special place that music takes us to – the place that transcends language, nationality, creed and colour. I think of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous quip: “If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music”, and even as a card-carrying agnostic I can only agree with the great man. This album has classic tracks sprinkled throughout, tracks that people will be returning to time and time again.

Life in general has been tough these last two years: records like this one ease the load just a little: the sun also rises, everything shall pass, the music will play as long as humans are around to play it. Moonboots, as ever, was right: Yn Rio is a fantastic piece of work.

Carwyn Ellis & Rio 18 with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales` Yn Rio is out now on Légère Recordings.

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