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Written in Folk Roots issue 156, 1996

Levande Väsen

Drone DROCD 009 (1996)

Guds Spelemän

Massproduktion MASS CD-69 (1996)

Where nyckelharpa, viola and guitar power-trio Väsen - Olov Johansson, Mikael Marin and Roger Tallroth - play, there will be dancing and fun. This live album Levande Väsen, recorded at a single gig in Västerås, shows the band in its element, strong tunes full of melody, drive and interesting twists, witty chat and all. (Spoken tune introductions have their own track numbers, and even titles, so if you want you can skip them and jump to the music, or let the CD run as a complete gig). It’d be hard to capture the full joyful, head-filling whizz of Väsen in a recording - you’d need to be there, up at the front and dancing - but this album gives probably the best recorded introduction to a major force in Swedish music.

      Showing a completely different aspect of current Swedish tradition-rooted affairs is the second album, Guds Spelemän, from Garmarna, a band which in some ways, though much heavier in sound, picks up the line of development of the Swedish/Norwegian band Folk och Rackare, (which made its last album in 1981) in using traditional and contemporary technology in a mix of traditional songs and ballads featuring largely female lead vocals, with occasional instrumentals - an approach from the song end of things rather than from traditional dance music which can also be compared to that of early Steeleye Span, which was still in the process of opening potentially interesting musical boxes when diverted by a burst of singles chartism. Garmarna, though, is definitely a Swedish manifestation, with different territories to explore in a different popular music epoch.
      A distinctive feature of some areas of Swedish roots musical evolution is the wholehearted integration of powerful, gutty drums and percussion, here coupled with dense, buzzing bowed and plucked strings and deep drones. Lead vocals (except on the brooding joik-oriented Njaalkeme, a poem in the language of the southern Sami sung by guest Pål Torbjörn Doj) are by Emma Härdelin, in songs whose lyrics (which will be translated into English in the booklet of the US and international release on Omnium) have the same kind of strong images of love and pain, expressed in language similarly direct and noble, as the big ballads of the British Isles.

© 1996 Andrew Cronshaw

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