Northside - US ( / Xource (

The fusion of folk and technology, the merging of old styles and new attitudes, is a process with deep pitfalls but potential high returns. In lesser hands than this ensemble the pitfalls can be painfully obvious. Groupa, however, has been rising to the challenge for 16 years. Jonas Simonson's flutes, Rickard Åström's acoustic and electric keyboards and Mats Edén's strings (and occasional melodeon) have forged new turf for both folk and "new music" in Sweden. Last year they added a new percussionist to the lineup, the formidable Terje Isungset from Norway, who adds a rough-hewn edge to the band's sound. This year they added singer Sofie Karlsson, their first full time singer (they did one album with Lena Willemark).

Lavalek is the most expansive and curious excursion the band has ever taken, working with a broader ambiance, an interesting mix of gentle, natural acoustics and aggressive use of percussion and electric keyboards. Even their excursion into 70's funk on the title track is marked by humor and creative spark that keeps it from mere parody or imitation. Karlsson's voice fits the group well, as she shifts from folk ballad to wailing, wordless sounds with the same deftness as the other musicians. Whether it is an austere ballad like "Berg och Dalar," a love song that highlights Karlsson's beautiful vocals, or a driving blast like "Ludgo-Johan," a jaunty folk dance with a pounding rhythm section, the record delivers surprises and delights. Lavalek marks something of a production coup for Groupa; their collaboration with Norwegian musician/producer Karl Seglem finds remarkable secrets in the music and hurls them into the light. This record could be a blueprint for a lot of other bands who think that "modernizing" is a goal unto itself. Groupa knows how to embrace the ancient muse while roaring forward. - CF

Available at cdRoots