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Written in Folk Roots issue 138, 1994


ECM 1536

This album has gained a good deal of publicity in Sweden because it's on the prestigious German ECM label, home of much of the work of such as Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea, and indeed it's encouraging to see such recognition for two musicians who are so central to the development of Swedish music; it'll probably reach a whole new audience, some of which might be emboldened to explore further.
      It's beautiful, often airy and elegant in sound, but it's no lightweight introduction or even a resumé of what's gone before. This is an album largely of ballads, with some shorter songs and instrumentals, all traditional except for three of Ale Möller's tunes. There are few up-tempo dance tunes - what we have here is part of the turning of the focus of Swedish music towards the voice, and perhaps a recognition of Willemark as that instrument's leading exponent.
      Though this particular group of musicians has never worked ensemble before, the names are familiar as long-time collaborators and members of leading bands: fiddler and bagpiper Per Gudmundson, fiddler Mats Edén (here on drone-fiddle and kantele), saxist Jonas Knutsson, percussionists Tina Johansson and Björn Tollin and bassist Palle Danielsson, with Willemark's vocals and fiddle and Möller's mandola, natural flutes, hammered dulcimer, cow's-horn and more. (No sign here of the latter's trumpet; that's evidently reserved for another compartment of his musical world.)
      The arrangements are sparse, often contemplative, allowing the story to be told - yes, it's in Swedish, and it was apparently a conscious decision to omit translations of the entire lyrics in the booklet in favour of short notes on the story-lines. The idea is that after a few listens the spirit of the song creeps through the language barrier. Whether that happens or not, as the album plays that special Swedish modality creeps into the mind, and it's certainly true that, as Lena Willemark says, "If you sing with enough passion, it doesn't matter what language you're using". And she always does that.

© 1994 Andrew Cronshaw

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