The opening track, the courtship song "Leja Tjanstepiga," is a very brisk start, and the treatment might remind one of those Finnish furies Värttinä, except for the total lack of stridency, and the elegance of the rendition. This is a CD devoted to beauty, and the performance is full of flourishes. That is not to say that the recording lacks viscera; when each singer demonstrates the traditional vocal technique of herding calls called "kulning" it is apparent that these women can let it rip when they choose. But for the most part, this CD does not shout, it keens; it does not stamp it's feet, it dances.
"Jag haver ingen karare" builds gradually with an arrangement that first obscures and then supports its melodic splendor. It segues well into "Arto's Christmas Polka" which should get everyone's blood flowing and toes tapping. It's a good dance tune, one that exhibits all that is wonderful about the Swedish folk fiddling tradition, and also reminds us of the formidable impact that this tradition has had on the folk music of the United States.
"Silibrand" is nasty song, dealing with malevolence, unnatural pregnancy and death. (Silibrand is the father of "little Karin" and marries her off to a faraway family. Bad idea. Next time Silibrand sees little Karin, she dies.) But it has a memorable melody and refrain and the treatment is outstanding. The austere "Pris vare Gud" follows, and finds the women singing a cappella in an exceptionally interesting and pensive arrangement.
However sometimes even great arrangement, fine playing and singing are unable to redeem certain songs. I cannot find any reason to have spent so much effort on "Balladen om (yet another) liten Karin" a dreary tale of torture with an equally dreary melody. Perhaps this song holds some special meaning in the Swedish soul. If it does, the liner notes and capsule translation certainly do not explain it.
The cluster of tunes which follow start to bear a certain sameness of approach, until the last song, "Nu vilar hela jorden" which brings us back to what is best about this CD: beautiful voices, blending and interacting in shimmering harmonies. Even the ensuing silence seems to resonate. - Michal Shapiro