Stephen Hunt penned this review.
This CD (originally released in Finland in 1994) is one of many Scandinavian albums currently finding a home in the US market courtesy of the Northside label. Troka is something of a Finnish “super group,” as three of its members also form the backbone of the Kaustinen fiddle phenomenon JPP. The familiar names here are Timo Alakotila (harmonium,) Matti Makela (fiddle) and Timo Myllykangas (double bass) while Minna Luoma (accordions) and Ville Ojanen (fiddle, viola, mandolin) complete the line-up. The accompanying booklet states that “as per standard Finnish character, the five members of Troka are rather “down home,” in lifestyle and on stage.”
Don’t expect to see them on MTV, writhing and squealing like Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera anytime soon then. Whereas “music,” for many in North America and indeed, most of Europe, is regarded as a pleasing sound to accompany visuals or activity, Troka make music for folks who regard it as “food and drink.” This particular variety puts me in mind of a particularly good coffee; hot, strong, rich and full of flavour. It’s all acoustic, all instrumental and all exceptionally good.
The majority of the music on this CD is composed by members of the band and takes in polkas, waltzes, marches and polskas with occasional forays into Swedish, Irish, Balkan and bluegrass. The arrangements are complex but uncluttered, and steer away from the familiar folk approach of a “lead instrument,” taking the melody while the rest accompany. This is genuine “group,” playing with everything beautifully integrated to the extent that it’s hard to imagine these tunes being performed any other way.
Lets wander off into another metaphor (!) for a while. There’s lots of groups of “bricklayers,” out there, fine musicians who stick all the bits together to make something solid and functional. This band operates in the field of musical architecture. Take a look around the house that Troka built, turn a corner and exclaim “look at that chord!”
It’s becoming something of a cliche to say that “Finland is the New Ireland.” While it’s perhaps unlikely that the music of Kaustinen will ever capture the World’s ear to the same extent as the music of Kilkenny, the Northside label are to be commended for their unwavering belief in the ability of this music to win converts far beyond it’s Scandinavian home lands.
Troka state that their ambition is to get you “grinning from ear to ear, bobbing your head and whistling Troka tunes in the bathtub.” Budge up and pass the loofah ….