Helene Blum & Harald Haugaard Band Strømmen
Review by Chris Nickson
It sounds bizarre, given that as solo artists, Blum and Haugaard have made a number of albums with essentially the same group of musicians, but this is actually the debut of the Blum & Haugaard Band. A new name, and a subtle change in sound: a little more varied, a broader mix of songs and instrumentals, plus a surprise or two.
Both of them (they’re partners in both life and music) grew up with traditional Danish folk. It’s at the core of what they do, but they’ve come to give it less emphasis over the years. With this release, at times they’re reminiscent of 10,000 Maniacs, which is no bad thing at all. Witness the title track - with Blum’s voice as hypnotic as spun gold, able to capture a heart full of emotion in a single inflection, while the musicians push the piece in a delicious, unexpected direction for the second half of the song.
"Den Første Sne – Den Sidste Vinter" (excerpt)
The balance of instrumentals and songs definitely works, although Blum’s writing credits seemed quite front-loaded (as do the tracks featuring her on piano), and Haugaard does contribute tracks that give his virtuosic fiddle playing a chance to quietly shine, most especially on the soft pillowing beauty “Den Første Sne – Den Sidste Vinter.”
Strømmen (which means the stream) turns up several little astonishments. One is the band’s take on the perennial Danish favourite “En Yndig Og Frydefuld Sommertid,” a romantic poem set to music that’s been a one of the country’s staple sfor many years. But while it’s familiar, the arrangement brings something fresh, a little breeze from summertime (and yes, we could use that right now when we’re all in lockdown) that opens it up to blue skies and rippling leaves.
The biggest shock, however, is the unlikely “Dansevise,” which was the Danish Eurovision entry, and winner, in 1963. But where the original sounded like it escaped from an early spy movie, this version is gentle. It dances over acoustic guitar, transformed into a piece of light folk music. Quite a change indeed.
A couple of the pieces have their roots in old tunes by Rasmus Storm, one of the most lauded tunesmiths of the 1760s, whose work helped form the foundation of the Danish folk canon “Angst” is a standout, with additional words by the 19th century Danish poet Emil Aarestrup, while “Vær Tålmodig” marries a transformed Storm tune to words from a letter by Rainer Maria Rilke. It works with surprisingly strange beauty.
Superb as the two main performers are, the other musicians in the band, primarily cellist Kirstine Elise Pedersen, guitarist Mikkel Gue, bassist Tapani Varis, and Sune Rahbek, are all worth their weight in gold, bringing imaginative arrangements to life, and subtly improving every track. Really, it doesn’t matter whether this is a debut or simply one of many albums they’ve all made together. It’s outstanding. – Chris Nickson