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Garmarna - Guds Spelemän/Gods Musicians CD (album) cover

GUDS SPELEMÄN/GODS MUSICIANS

Garmarna

 

Prog Folk

3.41 | 9 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars Garmarna’s second full-length release is the one that seems to have really broken things open for the band outside their native Sweden. The album garnered them a Grammy in Sweden for best folk album of 1996, and the supporting tour became their largest to-date and included the band’s first trip to America.

The music isn’t much different than their previous work, but the group seems to have gelled some, and more importantly have given vocalist Emma Härdelin a larger role. The group’s debut EP was almost completely instrumental, while this one includes only one non-vocal track, and that one is also the shortest song on the album. Ms. Härdelin has a voice that doesn’t appear to have great range, but there is a warmth to it that is sometimes lacking in the often melancholy music of Scandinavia.

The band has expanded their instrumentation a bit with the addition of Jew’s-harp and hand drums (darbuka and djembe). I personally find the mouth harp to have an annoying sound and don’t know why you’d want to have it in your music (let alone the two of them Garmarna uses on some tracks like “Hallning Från Makedonien”); but on the other hand the hand drums make for a richer percussive sound so in all things even out quite nicely.

In general the hurdy-gurdy tends to have a very pervasive sound thanks to the drone strings that are almost always too loud and too – well, droning. That doesn’t seem to happen here so much though, mostly because the thing doesn’t get used as extensively as with some bands, and even when it is employed (“Min Man”, “Hilla Lilla”) the drone blends pretty well with the other strings (violin, viola) for a sort of waltz- like effect.

Most of the songs here are rearranged traditional folk numbers. The stories themselves are kind of charming, like “Herr Mannelig” in which a pining female troll tries to bribe a handsome prince into marrying her; or “Herr Holger” which relates the story of an embezzling tax-collector who returns from the dead to try and save his wife from a similar path. Others are more ranging like “Varulven”, the band’s self- proclaimed “only existing medieval ballad in Sweden where a werewolf appears”.

The band shows their bawdy side by including a couple tales of wayward women including “Vänner och Fränder” where a young virgin escapes from her arranged marriage to a prince and beds down with her sailor lover as their ship sails out to sea. And “Hilla Lilla” where young Hilla’s fiancé the Duke is slain by her brothers after being caught ‘inside of her’, apparently in advance of the expected nuptials (oops!). She ends up dying in the arms of the queen to whom she was sold as a servant after having sullied herself.

But the band isn’t just about reinterpreting old Swedish folk tales. They’ve also included a couple of more modern pieces here. “Njaalkeme” is derived from a poem written by Swedish actress Cecilia Persson and sung in south-Saami, an almost extinct dialect from the Barents Sea area of northern Scandinavia and Russia. And the title track comes from a work by Swedish poet Nils Ferlin.

I’m not sure really if Garmarna are a progressive folk band or just a very good modern folk band. And I’m not sure I really care. They are very good at what they do and this is as good as anything else I’ve heard from the band. I already gave them props on my review of their debut for keeping the Swedish folk sound alive though, and I can’t say anything they’ve added here that is really exceptional or innovative, so I’m going to say this is a very strong three star effort and one that is recommended for modern folk music fans as well as that odd group of people who like to collect hurdy-gurdy music.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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