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Craft of Kin: review by Jerry Rockwell

The Gallier Brothers
Craft of Kin is a great new recording by Les and Gary Gallier, featuring their innovative mountain dulcimer playing.  I was immediately taken by the stately, elegant “chamber ensemble” sound of many of the selections, which feature the fine violin and cello playing (and arranging) of David Wilson.  Gary’s trademark dulcimer flatpicking style is in evidence thoughout, as is Les’s fine melodic fingerpicking.

Craft of Kin is made up of 100% Gallier originals, and these tunes manage to touch upon a remarkable variety of genres, textures, and styles.  There are VERY few dulcimer recordings, if any, that rely solely on original material, and virtually none that have woven together so artfully the sound of the plucked dulcimer with the bowed string instruments.  Gary and Les have a powerful and highly original vision of where the dulcimer can go, and they take us there straight away with this delightful set of instrumentals.

Gary is a “flatpicker” in the most classic sense of the term–to my mind there is no one playing the dulcimer today who can even approach the subtlety and finesse of his flatpicking.  This breathtaking style maybe heard on Merlin’s Hornpipe and Highland Rail, which also includes a fabulous rhythmic harmonica track (as well as a snare drum part) played by Les.   Sounding almost like fingerpicking, Gary demonstrates a delicate crosspicking style as well on The Seekers Waltz (which also has a really tasty “crystalline” hammered dulcimer part by Princess Harris).   The Great River Road is an extremely intricate 6/8 or “jig-time” composition of Gary’s.   It is not particularly Irish or Celtic in melodic structure, which is refreshingly different, and it takes you VERY quickly to some surprising and unexpected places.  Please fasten your seat belts for this one !

Les has a wonderful and extremely unique style of fingerpicking which is as melodic as it is rhythmic and syncopated.  He plays lead dulcimer on the tunes that he wrote and they seem to have more of the “chamber ensemble” sound with Dave Wilson’s great string playing.   These include: Dance of the Silhouettes, Downsteam, and Upstream.   Wish for a Wish finds Les at his best with the melodic fingerpicking, where as Happy Habanero finds him playing solidly in a percussive groove.  As a matter of fact, this tune is a virtual festival of percussion, with seed pods, bongos, udu, and many other percussion toys played with  real precision.   Hidden Doors is another by Les which features a mesmerizing use of drone, along with an insistent, driving rhythm.   The interplay between Gary’s single-string flatpicking and Les’s chordal, melodic fingerpicking works particularly well on the tunes where both are playing dulcimer — the whole  is greater than the sum of the parts.

All told, this is a potent collection of original material for the dulcimer.  Gary and Les have made a significant contribution to the art of the Mountain Dulcimer, and Craft of Kin should inspire us well into the future.

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