[6 June 2006]
Something of an oddity, this: an extremely rare psychedelic selection from the Norwegian duo of Nina Johansen on vocals and guitar, and Runa Walle on sitar, guitar and vocals, with support from their Indian friend Satnam Singh on flute and tablas plus some local jazz and rock musicians rounding out the rhythm section. Originally released in 1970 in Norway only, and selling in ridiculously small numbers, this has been something of a legendary cut for lovers of all things psychedelic, just waiting for the right time for a re-release. Now, with the neo-psych-folk revival in full swing, that time seems to have finally arrived.
Still, this sure ain’t Six Organs of Admittance. What we have here is a gentle, billowing confection of sugary, delicate psychedelia that is absolutely awash in the supremely of-it’s-time sound of the rock-crossover sitar—not too dissimilar to the raga-pop cover versions of tunes by The Doors and The Rolling Stones being attempted by Ananda Shankar at around the same time. There are other obvious comparisons to be made here too, with Johansen’s honeyed vocals calling to mind certain female vocal-led psych bands of the era, such as The United States of America or Fifty Foot Hose. But perhaps the most accurate point of reference is to the Brazilian Tropicalia pioneers Os Mutantes, with their intoxicating mixture of laid-back bossa rhythms, exotic instrumentation, male and female vocals and the strange detachment of lyrics sung in English by someone who is not a native speaker of the language.
Nevertheless, despite the comparisons, there is some interesting and idiosyncratic musicianship at work here. The strongest tune is undoubtedly the opener “Across Your Life”, which starts out jazzy and sitar-drenched with a lazy rhythm before breaking into a heavy Latin freak-out in the final minute. The other clear stand-out track is “Can Anybody Tell?” with its bluesy Hammond organ, groovy tabla shuffle, soaring flute and funky sitar breaks.
Much of the rest of the album, however, tends to float by in an indistinguishable haze, with one track sounding very much like the last—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing provided you’re able to dig the gently wafting presence of ineffectual psychedelic sentiment. In fact, your enjoyment of this record is probably going to depend quite heavily on your tolerance of naïve, pastoral psychedelic lyrics that occasionally stray dangerously close to self parody.
Consider the following gem: “See the flowers kissing the sun / See the trees unfolding their beauty / Albatross floating in the air.”
Or how about: “Look at the flowers / Look at the grass grow.”
Or even: “Send me back to mother earth / Let it be my golden birth.”
You probably get the idea. Moreover, when the male and female vocals start to duet, there can be an uncomfortably fey “Peter-Paul-and-Mary”-ness to the proceedings. On the few occasions that Satnam Singh provides the vocals, his performance almost certainly benefits from being sung in Indian, with the meaning not readily available to the average English-speaking listener and a genuine sense of ‘otherness’ lifting his contributions out of the slightly limp regions inhabited by the others.
Nonetheless, this is a genuinely pleasant record, strongly evocative of time and place and sopping with well-meant naivety. You’d probably be hard pushed to find it offensive in any way and, even if you did, it’s all over in half an hour: just sit tight and you can soon get back to your Black Metal.