Big Earl Sellar penned this review.
It seems the new hot spot in the world music arena is Scandinavia. With a rekindled interest in the music that help to spawn many currently popular styles (such as country), the music from central northern Europe has been gaining popularity and interest over the last few years. Northside is an American distributor of fine Nordic recordings, helping to fill a distribution gap that leads us on this side of the Atlantic wanting for this wonderful music.
Ånon Egeland is a master of the mighty hardanger fiddle (a violin with drone strings). As a collector of traditional songs from his area, Egeland is noted for keeping the traditions of the north alive. On this, his first solo album of his twenty-plus year career, he brings forth a beautiful collection of dances from Sweden and Norway, some learnt from the great masters of the idiom.
The record is an interesting mix of tunes, featuring Egeland on fiddles, traditional flutes, and Jews harp. You get those great rhythmically challenging waltzes, like “Var Det Du Ekker Var Det Deg?”; a number of hollings (or round dances) like the pretty “Brureslira”; and “asymmetrical” reels (reels based on very quirky time signatures) like “Torstenensens.” There’s a lot of foot-tapping tunes on this disc, and some fine playing.
As an album, however, it doesn’t quite work. The pacing of tracks leave the disc a little stilted, as though no thought was given to the “flow” of the music. And while Egeland is a terrific instrumentalist, the Jews harp and overtone flute/recorder songs turn into a bit of a mesh, each sounding similar. Egeland shines on the numbers he plays with violist Mikael Marin (from the group Vasen); Leiv Solberg adds octave mandolin and guitar to round some tracks to a trio setting. These numbers tend to work better than some of the solo recordings: a few more of them would have made this album more interesting.
I would really like to note the production on this disc. Co-produced by Egeland, it is simply stunning. You feel you are right in the room with the musicians (and the songs), down to the tapping of the feet and recorder breaths; you almost sense the movements of Egeland’s mouth as he plays the Jews harp. This is exactly the recording quality that all folk music should strive for, a completely natural, unfettered sound.
Although it does have the pacing of an enthomusicological anthology, Ånon is a good disc of traditional Nordic music. It might not be the perfect disc for parties, but there are some wonderful songs here, played beautifully. A great introductory disc to this genre.