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Written in Folk Roots issue 136, 1994

Anima Mundi

Green Linnet GLCD 1141 (1994)

This isn't easy. A reviewer's supposed, I think, to give some idea of what an album's like without getting too personally involved. We are British, after all. But the fact is that when something really gets to us a subjective response would read like an analyst's notes or a life history, so we turn to strings of glowing adjectival clichés and technicalities.
      Ingrid Karklins' last album, and her first on CD, A Darker Passion, was one of those for me. Since you may well not have heard that, to compare this new one to it wouldn't be helpful, but you've probably already heard the opening track from Anima Mundi, Ligo, on the FROOTS#3 cover-disc. Let me tell you more.
      Background: Ingrid Karklins was born in Chicago of Latvian parents, raised in the Latvian community and speaking its language, and now lives in Austin. After some involvement in Celtoid music she found her real creative voice, helped to it by some of the extraordinary musicians in Austin and yet starkly in contrast to the music there; she's an island of north-European-ness. Bassist John Ridenour and innovative drummer and influence Thor have left the band (replaced here by Steve Bernal and Chris Searles), but the instrumental approach they helped to develop on A Darker Passion is still there on Anima Mundi; Karklins has found her direction, and there are plenty of interesting places to stop along the way.
      The songs move in and out of traditional Latvian motifs and eternal universal realities - seasons, harvest, thunder, the fear in love - and are simultaneously deeply rooted and contemporarily personal; (Never) Shake My Soul links love, snow and the shyness of British boys in an embrace to which only she can have the key. Throughout, in these oblique songs of few words, stark tunes with powerfully austere arrangements, sometimes meaty in sound but never trite or glitzy, there's a very north-European sense of yearning sadness and inexpressible passion.
      She also drops in at a couple of previous haunts, doing new versions of the title track from an earlier cassette-only album, Kas Dimd (What Thunders), and a tune from A Darker Passion, the pibroch-derived Hiro, an instrumental featuring edgy violins, cellos and her kokles (Latvian kantele).
      She combines the universals that make folk songs persist through the generations with the first-person expression (but not the melodic or rhythmic approach) of the American singer-songwriter. She's not trying to sell or repackage folk music - she's simply implying "here it is - here am I". When it comes down to it, culture is a personal thing.

© 1994 Andrew Cronshaw

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