After many years, I have a new favorite Pagan album. It’s Leslie Fish’s new CD, titled Avalon is Risen, featuring some of Leslie’s best compositions plus a few gems by other Pagan elders.
For those who don’t know already, Leslie Fish is a longtime Bard, famous among West Coast Pagans. She used to direct Manzanita Choir, which performed for rituals in the San Francisco Bay Area. This album is deeply rooted in her several decades of Pagan Bardic magical practice, and reflects not only her experiences but her very personal approach to myth and lore.
The title track, written by the late elder Druid, Isaac Bonewits, is an anthem: it announces the triumphant return of the Old Ways and of the life-affirming values they embody. This song celebrates the many Pagan paths, calling to the different branches of Indo-European Pagan priesthoods and joyfully inviting the rest of the world to throw off slavery and join with us in equal fellowship. Using just this song as the basic text, one could teach a semester-long class in the history and lore of the Old Religions.
Some of the songs explore aspects of Pagan life and identity seldom found in either books or music. For example, “Berserker”: most of us have heard of these “bear-shirt” Norse warriors and their battle frenzy; this song considers what a Berserker’s life might be like, and the discipline that must be required of such a person today. Likewise, “Mount Tam” is about making difficult choices in an emergency situation. Leslie, longtime Bard and warrior also, shares with us her personal choices, and invites us to consider our own.
On the other hand, her great sense of fun shines through, too. “The Gods Aren’t Crazy” is a lighthearted—and theologically tenable!—explanation of Fortean phenomena (rains of frogs, UFOs, and similar unexplained occurrences).
The album’s production values are top-notch. The sound engineering is professional-quality, and the arrangements are rich and varied: there is none of the unfortunate sameness from which many “genre” type albums suffer. The back-up musicians include such well-known and virtuoso performers as Kristoph Klover and Margaret Davis, and no synthesized music is used: it’s all done on traditional instruments. Bodhran and French horn, mandolin and fiddle, harpsichord and oboe, all are played with skill, precision, and flair.
The gorgeous album cover, with its profuse Celtic and Norse-style knotwork, makes many visual references to Celtic and Norse myth. The lyric booklet included with the CD includes liner notes with valuable supplementary information about the songs and about Pagan lore and history—and a little in-joke or two, here and there, for those who know how to see them.
A fun and thought-provoking work that will be appreciated more and more each year as the listener’s own study and knowledge of Pagan lore deepens.
Avalon Is Risen is available for purchase and free Internet streaming from Prometheus Music's website: www.prometheus-music.com/avalon.html