Fenja Menja
Fenja Menja
GO! Danish Folk Distribution (www.folkmusic.dk)

cd cover Listen to this nine-track self-titled debut recording by Danish band Fenja Menja and you're sure to hear echoes of Sweden's Hoven Droven, with whom they share a commitment to a high-energy, virtually demented take on Nordic folk music, supercharging the tradition's naturally driving, spinning cadences and furious fiddle melodies with wailing wah-wah electric guitar and thumping bass. You'll hear a distinct instrumental approach dominated by the gripping fiddle of Katja Mikkelsen and widened by Morten Lolk Rasch's piano and some fine vocals by Mathias Grip.

"Den Grove (The Crude One)" begins innocently enough with a quiet little fiddle tune whose devilish underside rapidly gets the better of it, eventually summoning the whole electric crowd to a spooky cavort, kept crazily spinning by the tight rhythm section of Johan Ahrenfeldt on bass and Søren Andersen on drums. The maelstrom metamorphoses into waltz time in "Orkanens øje (Eye of the Storm)," Kenneth Hermansen's trebly electric guitar pacing Mikkelsen's violin in an exuberant melody, picked up in the middle by piano to give listeners, and perhaps the band, a breather. The pace slows a bit but the drama if anything rises in "Tidmand," featuring Grip's vocal in a characteristically Nordic polyrythm which will have you checking your CD player, or ears, for skips.

"Den Længselsfulde (The Yearner)" introduces more Fenja Menja instrumental sophistication; another stuttery beat, 5/4 at times but with enough dropped and inserted beats to addle all but the most inspired dancer. The piano and fiddle share the melody, sounding a bit like new age jazz with gumption. "Djævlen i øret (Devil in the Ear)" is another surprise, a standard Bahian drum intro leading into a sinuous fiddle meditation to Brazilian percussion. Galloping bass ushers in "Månedans (Moon Dance)," which accelerates into another exhausting swirl, fiddle, bass, and drums in competing dementia behind Grip's multi-tracked trolls' chorus: a busy night at the monthly bonfire. The record winds up with a live track, "Stridsøksen (Battle Axe)," a decidedly unswinging waltz featuring guitar solo and a Mikkelsen bagpipe fling to the surprisingly accurate clapping of band and audience.

Even on the final live track, production is excellent: every instrument can be heard clearly, and each is in proportion to its role at the moment, no doubt also a tribute to the band members. The contemporary Nordic folk music of Fenja Menja is a joy, albeit an strenuous one, to experience. - Jim Foley

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