Kerstin Blodig
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Kerstin Blodig
Valivann
Alula 2002

cd cover Veteran of numerous collaborations with Scottish musicians, student of Norwegian traditional singing, Kerstin Blodig is eminently qualified to stitch together Gaelic and Scandinavian songs, with an emphasis on the bloody and melancholy, on her first solo recording, Valivann. But few recordings are truly solo ventures. Blodig's guitar, bouzouki and, above all, her luxurious voice are supplemented by traditional and modern instrumentation, all subtly produced to optimize drama and tonal variety. Her voice is a wonder, soft yet insistently riveting, as comfortable with the Gaelic glottals of Scots English as with the precise plosives and fricatives of Norwegian. But the most compelling aspect of Valivann is the insistent and often eerie melancholy of the lyrics, reproduced in English in the liner notes when sung in Norwegian.

The title track offers a rough Scandinavian parallel to the John Riley story, syncopated acoustic guitar strum with varied hand percussion, frame drum and clicks, electric guitar and uilleann pipes filling dramatically behind Blodig's soft yet insistent vocal. "Fause Fause Hae Ye Been" is a slow, sad Scottish ballad of betrayed love, Blodig's trembling yet intent vocal presenting some wonderfully poetic images of failed romantic aspiration viewed through final resignation. "Horpa" is perhaps the most chilling track, driven by harmonium drone and metallic, almost industrial, percussion, wonderfully augmenting Blodig's intent Nowegian rendition of a creepy tale of romantic rivalry, murder, and weird fate, a sort of haunted Steeleye Span. "The Cruel Sister" presents an English retelling of this macabre tale, heartbeat percussion underlying lyrics interspersed with chillingly joyless "fah-lah-lahs," unobtrusive harp echoing the plot.

"Mystical Man" is a gentle, jazzy ballad of fantasy infatuation featuring Blodig's precise reedy vocal, musically one of the most conventional tracks, but whose lyrics seem broadly descriptive of the mixed danger and hope of even merely human relationships. After its slow, dramatic bouzouki introduction, "The Seal Man" presents another tragic ballad of romance, or at least procreation, across mystic planes, uilleann pipe break in the center. "Sven Svane" is a wistful ballad in Norwegian, Blodig's casually lovely voice intoning one of the more haunting melodies on the disk, distorted wah-wah guitar unexpectedly dramatic and suggestive of the sea. By the time "Kjetta" rolls along, you'll appreciate its respite from doom and gloom, a jaunty bit of happy nonsense, sort of a Norwegian puirt-a-beul, infectious mandolin-led jig with eccentric percussion in the center.

Valivann is not only beautiful, but dares to plumb the often disturbingly bloody folklore of the north seas. - Jim Foley

Audio samples at the artist's website

CD available from cdRoots


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