The Art of David Rankine


Reviews, Testimonials and Comments

Western Voyage, Eastern Shore


Arathusa Records, 2009

by Alison Brownlee

Written and produced for the 2009 Wainfleet Viking Market and Summer Solstice Celebration, Western Voyage, Eastern Shore was created to represent the Norse experience in the 11th century, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Although the instrumentation is minimal – mountain dulcimer, vocals, percussion and the occasional bird chirp – the mood and tone of the 12 pieces create a vivid mental image of the Norse during their time of global exploration.

In an interview, dulcimer player David Rankine said, “There’s no way of knowing what Norse music sounded like one thousand years ago,” but Dulcimerhead’s interpretation, which was developed through a group effort by Rankine, percussionist Fernando Villalobos and vocalist Daniela Godina, encapsulates the lived experience of the Norse by incorporating the musical traditions of the peoples with which Viking explorers came into contact.

For example, Cultivate sounds slightly Persian because of the minor mode, the pitch progressions on the dulcimer and the lyrical movement of Godina’s vocals. The song is a perfect example of the group’s emphasis on cultural integration, because it’s believably Norse, yet Middle Eastern at the same time.

Moving further east, Revelation has Godina switch to a more chant-poet vocal style with meditative chimes in the background. While these aspects invoke the Far East, the dulcimer sounds almost lute-like, giving the piece a Celtic Britain tone as well.

Although Dulcimerhead is described as a psychedelic progressive rock band, what makes it unique is the mountain dulcimer, which is an extremely versatile instrument. Rankine is able to use it to its full advantage on tunes like Sunstone, which is an instrumental piece by Rankine and Villalobos. The tune has a faster tempo, and an expertly used Djembé that gives a tribal feel to the music. The versatility of the dulcimer takes the foreground, though, through the use of harmonics and drones, while layering the melodic and accompanying lines to create a depth of sound. Near the end of the piece electronics are incorporated to highlight the psychedelic aspect – the sound is faintly reminiscent of Jim Morrison and The Doors.

The two best songs on the album, however, were saved for last. Solstice Dance is an obvious nod to the occasion for which the album was produced, but it’s an energetic, Celtic-inspired instrumental piece in 2/4 time that starts toes tapping the moment the percussion comes in. The hand drumming gives a rustic feel while the simple major mode melody invokes people dancing around the Summer Solstice bonfire with vine wreaths on their heads. It certainly pulls listeners into the celebration.

To close off the album, Godina is welcomed back to sing Cup of Plenty. It’s a great song to end with because it has a quick, almost hurried tempo and frantic strumming on the dulcimer, which eventually slows to give the piece texture. Godina’s midrange vocals are somewhere between chant and lyrical, summarizing her range on the album wonderfully. It’s a simple song, but probably the catchiest – the lyrics “Ideas flow from the cup of plenty” will be stuck in one’s head hours after the song is over because of the phrase’s melodic beauty.

Overall, Dulcimerhead’s fourth album is fantastic. Its pieces vary in tempo, mode, key, style, regional influence, lyrical content and percussive technique, all of which keeps the listener interested. Most impressive, though, is how pieces like Sunstone and At the Edge can showcase the intricacies of the mountain dulcimer – the instrument isn’t exhibited as a one-trick pony relied on as a novelty. Instead, it’s very much used to its full advantage to enhance the sound and concept of the album, which is the voyage and cultural exchange experienced by the Norse people the world over.

Dulcimerhead hit its theme very well and Western Voyage, Eastern Shore is definitely worth investing 47 minutes in, if not for the fantastic musicianship and artistry, then at least for the lesson in anthropological history.


   Re: Dark Mandala Release  


"Dulcimerhead is an original, improvisational, rule-breaking, community-building indie creativity engine. Their rich blend of influences spans folk-prog rock, thrash metal and world music. When they play, people get happy."           Agent L
 re:  Revealed Structure:  

"They sound like colours if colours could be heard...amazing. What a recording and accurate title: Revealed Structures. It slowly and gently took me to another place so tranquil I didn't want to leave. It recharges the soul. I am eager to experience the lost tracks. Absolutely WOW!"           D. Draper

 re:  Dulcimerhead .  "Been listening to your music over the last few days and very much enjoying it.  .reminds me of the days when the Earth was young. . .Best Wishes." . .Valley Arc
re: Gnosis "this work for some reason connects in the way i was hoping to with a source...I like his art as well but his music I think is impressive.                             Bernie - composer and artist
Jan 17 2009 - posted by Agent L   Subject - New Tracks on Dark Mandala (release date: FEb 2009)
The latest track to appear is a lovely reflective instrumental called "Deep Blue Star." (I am listening to the clip right now -- and you can listen to full tracks at, too.)  There is a real "voice" behind this one, and it also reminded me of a Deep Purple song that I love. Help me out here -- it's like that song the storm-chasers listen to in "Twister," if it were played slowly and with a lot of love.

Sometime I will write a blog about the Dulcimerhead fixation on Canadian weather and big water. If you check titles, you can see it -- and you can definitely hear it in the music. For example, "Ullalume's Return" is a gorgeous sunrise with ornamental motifs on the dulcimer, for all the world like the gradual waking of the birds, the quickening of life as the sun's energy arrives. "Waves on the Point" is a sonic mandala, with waves of sound eddying in and out of spirals just like a big lake does when it "plays" with a rocky shore.

Jan 10 2009,  posted by Agent L      subject New CD Dark Mandala almost here!
I love the title of Dulcimerhead's newest CD: Dark Mandala.
In this world, consciousness is symbolized by light.
  But the dark is where the creative elements ferment and exciting new things come to life.
It reminds me of the Dark Madonna. Quite the archetypal counterpart to the traditional light-and-purity version. This earthy, chthonic elemental goddess was represented with dark skin. She was worshipped as a source of fertility, maternal nurturing, compassion and justice. Here is an interesting interpretation of the Black Madonna, which I have plagiarized wholesale from Wikipedia:
  Black Madonnas express a feminine power not fully conveyed by a pale-skinned Mary, who seems to symbolise gentler qualities like obedience and purity. This idea can be discussed in Jungian terms. The "feminine power" approach may be linked to Mary Magdalene and female sexuality repressed by the medieval Church. In France, there are traditions affirming that some statues are of Mary Magdalene and not of Mary, the mother of Jesus, but these traditions and related theories are generally rejected by theologians. The suggestion that Black Madonnas represent feminine power may be linked with the earth goddesses and attributed to the archetypal "great mother" who presides not only over fertility, but over life and death. These ideas overlap with "feminist spirituality" or "women's spirituality". (Chiavola Birnbaum)
  The Dark Mandala music has this undercurrent of powerful and intuitive knowledge -- primeval rhythms and layered vocals, almost reminiscent of a Gregorian chant or some kind of kirtan -- a devotional voice. There are also some beautiful melodies that stir feelings of homesickness in me -- sad, but in the good way.
  It is an aural journey that rewards any listener.


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