From the title to the monochromatic color scheme on the cover to the exquisitely subtle performance, everything about Folk Songs is understated. Swedish singer/flutist Karlsson is an artist who deals in nuance and delicate shadings. Her voice has the smoky overlay of Sandy Denny and the expressive phrasing of Niamh Parsons. Her accompanists (Harald Haugaard on viola and violin; Esbjörn Hazelius on cittern, voice, and violin; Johan Hedin on tenor nyckelharpa; and Leo Svensson on cello) are skilled and sensitive, weaving fine threads of sound between the phrases. Svensson's cello work is especially beautiful. One of the most intriguing songs here is the eerie, sinuous "Som fågelen." Karlsson's wordless keening intertwines with the sometimes atonal violin lines. A persistent pizzicato underscores the whole thing. Karlsson's härjedalspipa and trätvärflöjt playing is like an extension of her voice. She uses the flutes on the few polskas scattered among the songs. Rather than emphasizing the dance aspect of these tunes, the group explores the melodic and contrapuntal possibilities, turning them into chamber music miniatures. Karlsson and her ensemble do not offer traditional renderings of Swedish folk tunes, but rather create meticulously wrought, emotionally satisfying works of art. - Peggy Latkovich
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