For the first time in its 45-year history, this album of spaced-out psychedelic folk by Dorothy Carter is being reissued by Palto Flats (New York) and Putojefe Records (Berlin) in December 2023, and about time too, for a new generation of music lovers who have not had the chance to hear Carter’s work. Probably best known for having co-founded all-female ensemble Mediæval Bæbes with British musician Katharine Blake in 1996, Carter (1935 – 2003) was an accomplished performer of contemporary, folk (often Celtic-inspired) and mediaeval revival music, often of a highly experimental nature, on a range of stringed instruments including hammered dulcimer, zither and psaltery, and other instruments such as recorder. As far as I can make out on the Discogs website, Carter released three solo albums, and her second “Waillee Waillee”, originally released on the Celeste label in 1978, is the best known.
From start to finish, “Waillee Waillee” is a wondrous work of eight tracks featuring beautiful and flowing if often haunted music, some of which are instrumental and others with singing by Carter herself. “The Squirrel is a Funny Thing” is an exquisite opener that lets us glide into Carter’s world of shimmering faerie-like dulcimer melodies and her slightly eerie singing: a world where the boundaries between humans and faerie folk dissolve into mist and the two dimensions merge into one. Sure enough, in the track that follows, the stately “Dulcimer Medley”, the little people can be imagined graciously and haughtily entering our world with their troubadours announcing their arrival. “Along the River” is a wistful and melancholy piece with Carter’s almost unearthly voice filled with longing and perhaps regret. On “Summer Rhapsody”, Carter is joined by Robert Rutman on droning steel cello, the huge deep sound of his instrument contrasting with the more delicate rapid-fire metallic sounds of Carter’s dulcimer. (Perhaps “delicate” isn’t really the right word since Carter hammers those dulcimer strings hard and fast.)
The title track may well be the most pop-friendly song on the album, presenting as a love song and performed with a full band including descant recorder and Carter’s dreamy vocals teetering on the edge of otherworldliness. From here on though, our journey takes us backwards and forwards in time as Appalachian dulcimer ventures into a stately minimalist neo-mediaeval soundscape redolent of nostalgia. The most outstanding music on the album indeed is to be found in the last couple of tracks “Autumn Song”, a fast-paced number on dulcimer and percussion – the beats in themselves are highly hypnotic – and the closing track “Tree of Life” which brings back Rutman on steel cello on what turns out to be a dreamy and ethereal piece with Carter’s vocals floating off into the ether, leaving behind echoes and sinuous trails of dulcimer and ambient effects wafting through the clouds.
Every song, even though performed on a fairly narrow range of instruments, has its own distinct character with some tracks sounding vaguely Indian or even East Asian, and others (especially the fast instrumental pieces) unexpectedly coming close to black metal in speed and acoustic effect. The result is there’s hardly any filler and even the title track, for all its pop-music accessibility, partakes something of the unearthly and fey dimensions from where Carter might hail. A true and unique masterpiece recording.