Sussie Nielsen, Day Is Dawning (Go, 2005)
I confess that I have a weakness for good female voices. So it is no wonder I fell in love with the voice of Sussie Nielsen when I heard her singing with her group Flax in Bloom at the Skagen Festival in 2002. Her first CD After Rain, recorded after attending a folk music course in Limerick, Ireland, confirmed the quality of her voice and her singing.
Since After Rain had something of a demo about it, and since Flax in Bloom's only published music are downloads on their Web site, Day Is Dawning could be considered Nielsen's proper debut album. She produced it herself, with an octet of Irish, Welsh, Danish and Swedish musicians--an octet surprisingly not including any Flax members--backing her on harp, guitar, piano, fiddles, keyed fiddles, cello, accordion and tin whistle. But the instrumental arrangements are very sparse, often with just a single instrument accompanying Nielsen's voice.
Nielsen seems to have a special love of slow melodic airs, because nine of the 11 tracks are of this kind, with the lively "She Didn't Dance" and the instrumental "Amhrn Na Leabhar" being the only exceptions. The latter is the last track but one, performed on tin whistle by Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh, which seamlessly turns into the guitar introduction of "Ten Thousand Miles," one of the best tracks on the album. Not the song of the same name as the one recorded by Eliza Carthy, it has a tune with traces of Scarborough Fair.
As a matter of a fact, the jewels of this album come at the end of it. If you really want a taste of the pure quality of Nielsen's voice I recommend you start with track eight, "Lady Margret." It starts off a capella and slowly builds up over a little more than seven minutes with the addition of harp, keyed fiddle and cello. But it never turns rocky or over-dramatic; the drama is portrayed without losing the romantic feel of the ballad. It is followed by a slow, moving "The Sally Gardens." This time she is backed by the piano, with an accordion playing a restrained solo between verses. The song is one of those familiar ones, which often are neglected because of their popularity, but Nielsen breathes new life into it and shows why it has become so widespread.
The rest of the album is very good, but it does not quite reach the heights of the last four tracks. Nielsen has chosen strong songs. She sings them very well and never lets the backing instruments take over; they are there to lift the songs, not to shine on their own. She stays close to the Irish tradition, but proves she is no purist by adding instruments from other traditions, most notably the keyed harp; by including a few English songs; and by singing a few verses of "Dn do Shil" in Danish.
I like this album very much. It is an album I have waited for since hearing Flax in Bloom three years ago. It is also the starting point of what could become a very successful career. To me Nielsen combines the seriousness of June Tabor with the charm of Kate Rusby. Of course she has a bit to travel before she is in their class, but given time and the right support she could be aiming for that.
You can learn more at the Go folk music Web site.