You can dress up a folk song in any number of ways, but it’s still just a folk song. Put it in a tuxedo with tails and a top hat. Tighten a flashy cummerbund around its waist. You can even send it to a Nordic country. That’s not saying that a folk song in a tuxedo can’t be a sophisticated, welcome entity. Nor is that saying that some Nordic folk songs aren’t better than American folk songs. But sometimes even the best dressed folk songs, when they are all dressed alike, become exactly like a sea of men all wearing the same black tuxedo. They may be attractive, but you’d be goddamned if you can tell them apart.
Amandine, a Swedish band, have dressed folk songs and waltzes in all varieties of fancy clothes. They’ve surrounded them with accordions and strings and slowed them to plodding paces, all in an attempt to create more profound music. What they come up with is often quite affecting. The accomplished musicianship and honest production give a raw feel to the music. The minor downfall is the similarity between songs and song lyrics. Most involve nature images of wingéd creatures and the dissolving of human relationships.
Even with the repetition, this is undoubtedly a very good looking, good sounding, and good smelling CD. (Can anyone else never get enough of the fresh scent of a jewel case insert?) The artwork is beautiful and classic. Even the UPC, which on many major labels has become a giant ad for anti-piracy campaigns, is integrated seamlessly into the artwork. The music ain’t so bad, either.
“For All the Marbles” shows how strong a simple song can sound when infused with a heartbroken violin and accordion. The dissonant harmonies and spare piano only add to a sound that is amazingly complex and concurrently spare. The lyrics support these sweet, melancholy songs. The protagonist in “Halo” says, “I would like us to sway / Slow dancing further away / From this place”. One can call foul for repeating the same idea on a later song, entitled “Sway”, dedicated entirely to a sweet, swaying, dancing moment, but that’s a minor point. Amandine’s strength is the ability to add extra instruments (strings here, brass there) yet maintain the sparse feeling of a folk song.
Music can be sad and/or depressing, and the musicians performing such music can display the corresponding emotion, but singer Olof Gildöf is supposed to be sincere but he often merely sounds . . . bored. Even subdued emotions can be emoted in interesting or exciting ways. At points, I wished that he would just sing. Not strain, not emote. Just sing.
One interesting choice for the band is the frequent use of clean-toned electric guitars instead of acoustic guitars. When the music calls for increased aggression in the strumming, the amps lightly distort; whereas an acoustic guitar would simply become a little louder. This tactic gives many of the songs a jagged edge where they would normally be pristine. It works quite well.
Fans of slow, sad roots music will love this CD. And the admiration is deserved. This is better-than-average desolate music, equally adept at mimicking the Swedish countryside or the barren plains of the American Midwest. If you don’t mind hearing the same song twice (or three or four times), then this might be perfect for you. After all, it’s the same good song over and over.
// Notes from the Road
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