Harv, Polka Raggioso (NorthSide, 2005)
Last year, the band Harv followed up its excellent album Töst! with Polka Raggioso, another collection of mostly original tunes rooted in the Swedish fiddling tradition. Founding members Magnus Stinnerbom (viola and accordion) and Daniel Sandén-Warg (fiddle) were augmented for this CD by percussionist Christian Svennsson and new guitarist David Tallroth. Harv have essentially assumed the role, created by Väsen when they became a quartet and abdicated by them when they reverted to being a trio, of Sweden's leading proponents of aggressive, percussion-driven fiddle music. As a result, purists will probably not care for their sound so much, while those drawn to contemporary Nordic folk music for the way it exploits the edginess inherent in the tradition will like this a lot.
Polka Raggioso picks up right where Töst! left off, with a lot of brisk instrumentals composed primarily by Stinnerbom in a variety of styles. "Grythyttehyl" matches the power of the best tracks on Töst!, and sets the tone for Polka Raggioso quite nicely. "Direktör Deg," already available from NorthSide as the title track of an EP from earlier in 2005, maintains the momentum. Fans of more purely traditional Swedish music criticize the use of percussion for drowning out the subtleties in polka rhythms, though, and such an argument can be made over this tune. The polka medley "Sockertöj/Ja Dä Gör Vi" features Stinnerbom's first appearance on record playing the accordion, and has a distinctively Cajun feel. The mellower polskas "Tösen" and "Titania" were both composed for theatrical productions, and are considered by the band to be the "chick hits" on the album. The title tune features a very odd key shift from A-major to F-major, but the band makes it sound perfectly natural.
As with previous Harv discs, the playing is tight and solid throughout and the music is fun to listen to. However, while the band does add a couple of new twists with the addition of the accordion and a couple of prominent polkas, a lot of the new material is essentially indistinguishable from what they've done previously. For all the energy and good playing, I couldn't help feeling a sense of "been there, done that" while listening to a few of the tracks on this disc. It's hard to be too critical, though, given that Harv have created a sound that for the most part works very well for them.