Delicious traditional Swedish music -- with harmonium! -- from the band named after dark, sweet licorice.
When Emma Hardelin sings with the group Garmarna she uses her "take no prisoners" voice and makes every song's lyric sound dark and foreboding. With Triakel we see her "sweeter" side, her sense of the wonder, mystery, and humor in the world. When Triakel's members first decided on a name for their trio, they chose the word "triakel" which is the name of a dark, sweet licorice. The "sweet" was Hardelin and her lovely voice; the dark is represented by the two male instrumentalists -- Kjell-Erik Eriksson on fiddle and Janne Strömstedt on harmonium.
The use of the harmonium in traditional Swedish music seems rare but is, nonetheless, a very interesting addition and blends well with the minor keys and droning melodies of their fiddle tunes. Hardelin's warm, expressive, and highly ornamented voice is the icing on the cake.
Most of their repertoire is derived from the region of Jämtland in Sweden and is often sung in that dialect. The tunes are all played with acoustic instruments and there are no electronic devices or drums to enhance their natural rhythmic and melodic beauty. The tunes do not require any hocus-pocus; they stand-alone. These three musicians utilize their extraordinary gifts for the musical tradition that they grew up with by standing back and playing the music in a straightforward, honest, and direct manner. They let you see not only the beauty behind the music but the modern relevance of maintaining the tradition. As individual musicians they are not "purists" per se; but they formed Triakel for just this purpose -- to get away from their work with other more "modern" Swedish groups such as Garmarna and Hedningarna.
Songs from 63 Degrees N is the third recording by Triakel. As with its first two recordings, Triakel gives us an excellent choice of material to listen to. Even though the casual listener might say, "Oh, why buy another one if it is all going to sound the same..." -- this is indeed not the case. Although the instrumentation and vocals are the same, the choice of material is dynamic and soulful all at once. Many are played in the spirited traditional dance rhythms of Sweden -- polska, waltz, schottishe -- and some are hymns and dark ballads.
For those of us who are not fortunate to speak Swedish, the liner notes include an explanation for each of the song's "stories" and one can go to NorthSide's website for the actual translations of each song.
Although some of the tunes in their repertoire are newly composed, they have all the thematic elements of the ancient ballads, including love, death, betrayal, village humor, and children's nursery rhymes. One such tune is "Lilil-Pe I Floa" ("Wee Willie Wattie", written in 1976 by Ollie Simonsson of Offerdal (Jämtland)):
"Where are you goin'?
Said Wee Willie Wattie
As I stood by the door
In my jacket and cap
If you're off to the farm
I don't wanna go
I might get the cold in weather like this.
I'm goin' to the farm
To get some milk
For you to have in your gruel today
But it's cold and it's snowin'
And a hard wind's blowin'
So you don't have to come with me."
The song continues to heap on enticements with each verse until Wee Willie Wattie (apparently Ollie Simonsson's son) decides to go inspire of the "colds and stuff".
For the most part, the album is just the trio of Hardelin, Eriksson, and Strömstedt, but Anders Larsen joins them as guest vocalist on "Min Docka" ("My Pretty Maid"). Larsen is a folk singer and a former classmate of Hardelin's when she attended music school in Malung, Sweden. The song is one of those dialogs between a young man who seeks to entice a young woman into his arms; she scorns him and refuses to be "led astray" by a bold deceiver. Larsen sings the words of the young rogue and Hardelin the "pretty maid" (which, if truth be told, she really is).
Hardelin seems to be one of those incredibly hardworking musicians who has her fingers in many projects. I have taken an interest in her career ever since I heard her on Garmarna's first CD many years ago. She has worked on several projects, including one of Swedish-speaking musicians in Estonia. Triakel is definitely a group to watch out for and all three of their recordings are worth seeking out. Thanks to NorthSide for the tireless efforts to make what they like to refer to as "Nordic" music available outside of Scandinavia.