When last I heard of the Swedish folk band Ranarim, they had just performed at the 2001Nordic Roots Festival in support of their debut album Till the Light of Day. Over the next five years, they expanded from a quartet to a sextet and recorded one album that didn’t get released outside Sweden, but had otherwise kept a low profile since 2003. As often happens with Nordic folk bands, the members of Ranarim had all sorts of other projects to work on. They have most definitely benefited from the time off, though, as their new album Morning Star is as fresh and vital as any Scandinavian album I’ve heard in quite some time.
For Morning Star, the original quartet of Ulrika Bodén and Sofia Sandén (vocals), Niklas Roswall (nyckelharpa), and Jens Engelbrecht (guitar) are joined by Anders Johnsson (bass) and Olle Linder (percussion). As usual, when a folk group opts for a fuller band sound they run the risk of offending the purists, but I think the new members provide just the spark that the band and their music need. The lyrics are mostly taken from traditional sources, usually with one of the band members setting them to music. Despite the personnel changes, Ranarim’s sound still revolves around the harmonizing of Bodén and Sandén, both of whom sound superb on this recording. While I’ve been enchanted by the sound of singing in the Finnish language for as long I’ve known about it, this is the first time that Swedish singing (which has its own distinct sound but comes from entirely different linguistic roots) has produced a comparable effect for me.
I can’t really pick out one standout track on Morning Star, but that’s in no way intended as a criticism of the album. Indeed, the album starts out fun and lively, and maintains the feel throughout. They sing polkas and polskas, throw in some medieval ballads, and give a few of the songs a bluegrass feel; all of it works. Ranarim sounds like a band having a lot of fun making music together right now, and the pleasure rubs off on the listener all the way through Morning Star. I just hope the band don’t wait so long to make their next recording.