Boot - Soot - Sweden
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Caprice, Sweden

What did headbangers do before the age of electricity? The Swedish trio Boot gives us an inkling, if a bit fantastical, that the folks who listened to folk music may have done some of their own jaw-clenched listening.

Boot plays acoustic instruments: often plain, sometimes electronically varnished; its members view the old tunes through a modern lens. The players have sterling pedigrees in the Swedish folk revival: Hållbus Totte Mattison, a founding member of the seminal group Hedningarna, Ola Bäckström of the English-Swedish Swåp and Samuel Andersson, also of Hedningarna. Acoustic or electric, the group and players share a deep, though not slavish, appreciation of traditional music.

On Soot, their reinvention starts with the use of original compositions that reflect rather than imitate ancient styles. Their approach is also decidedly modern: heavily rhythmic and powerfully propulsive. It’s a sound that was obviously not born yesterday, but was forged in a world that’s been saturated with rock ‘n’ roll’s dynamism.

Like classical art music, the songs often build to climaxes as the ensemble repeats and plays with a few anchoring melodies, changing textures as their arrangement evolves. There aren’t long, extended solos as much as players half-stepping forward to briefly advance the song, supported by the countermelodies of the other two.

Mattison plays several baroque stringed instruments, sometimes running them through synthesized effects that recall experimenters such as Robert Fripp of King Crimson. Bäckström’s viola d’amore moderna sings searing melody lines, often soaring over a volcanic foundation laid down by Mattison and Andersson. Though drums are not a traditional part of Swedish folk music, they have become an integral part among many of the revivalists. Andersson does not play trap drums, but a variety of hand-held percussion instruments, creating a varied rhythmic underpinning for many of the songs.

The overall sound is big and intense – there is a rock ‘n’ roll, almost-Gothic, feel to the sparks hammered out here. While the trio brings to mind prog rockers, it also avoids that genre’s overindulgences. The trio delivers the tunes expeditiously, always serving them well.

Boot does not come in just one intensity. There’s the traditional “Lillasystern” – a delicate tune in which Andersson takes a gentle lead turn out front on drum. “Getingen” features Bäckström’s viola soaring ahead of crescendo after crescendo. That goes into “Oxberg/Bingsjo,” which starts ominously, then changes into a sweet and stately traditional song that loses its electronics for a while and feels very old world.

The Scandinavian folk movement never reached anywhere near its potential in the United States, but it certainly has left some gems scattered amid the landscape for curious Americans to discover. Here’s hoping that Boot finds the larger audience it deserves. - Marty Lipp

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CD available from cdRoots

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