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Written in fRoots issue 275, 2006


Drone DROCD 041 (2005)

Here’s the problem, and it’s one that’s a sub-text of many of the reviews we write in this magazine, so much so that to avoid harping on it’s taken as a given and seldom mentioned. But once in a while…
      If one of the current young English folk revival singers makes an album of interesting traditional songs, well sung and accompanied, it’s usually suitably fęted here. But how would it go down in a country where virtually no-one understood English? Listeners would be getting just the melodies, the surface texture, the appeal or otherwise of the singer’s voice, the interaction of voice and instruments, any novelty in its musical approach, but it would stand or fall in their estimation on those, rather than on the full content, the blend of the meaning of the lyrics with the music, and the cultural resonance.

      So, here’s an album by one of the current wave of young Swedish revival singers, Sofia Sandén, of Ranarim and Rosenbergs Sjua. In Swedish terms it’s a notable release, gaining critical plaudits. Integrating with the songs from Sandén’s home county of Dalarna is a strong instrumental team: Dan Sjöberg and Jens Engelbrecht on fiddle, viola, fretted strings and harmonium, with guests Harald Pettersson, Johanna Dahl and Pelle Lindström on hurdy-gurdy, cello and harmonica. Her singing is direct and articulate rather than internationally striking; the essence is in her telling of the lyrics – two songs about the arrival of spring, one about summer, another about autumn, songs about love, a ballad about a girl turned into a nightingale by her evil mother-in-law and rescued by a knight. Put like that it seems like pretty much the usual fare of a folksong album from a European country, but of course there’s more to its effectiveness than the noise it makes and a booklet translation of the lyrics.
      Of course if you’re reading fRoots you’re probably accustomed to enjoying music whose lyrics you don’t necessarily understand as they go by (and English may well not be your first or only language). But imagine you’re a non English speaker and you’re listening to an album by Rachel Unthank, James Raynard…

© 2006 Andrew Cronshaw

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