Ranarim, Till The Light of Day (Northside, 2000)
One half of this new Swedish band -- the lovely voices of Ulrika Boden and Sofia Sanden -- hails from the wonderful vocal band Rosenberg 7. The other half -- consisting of Niklas Roswall and Jens Engelbrecht -- provides a simple, yet powerful, stringed accompaniment that is just perfect for Boden and Sanden's ethereal duets.
Boden and Sanden should be familiar to fans of Swedish music not just for their work with Rosenberg 7, but also for their delightful contributions to the latest Hoven Droven CD. While perhaps lesser known to non-fans, Roswall was the 1996 Nyckelharpa World Champion, and Engelbrecht belongs to another Swedish band, Hulling.
This CD, the band's first, draws mostly from Sweden's deep well of traditional ballads, set to the band's own arrangements. Roswall contributes three original instrumental compositions -- two of them polskas -- including the aptly titled opener, "Spelemannen / The Fiddler." Twelve of the remaining thirteen tracks feature the beautifully matched voices of Boden and Sanden. The subject matter of the songs varies widely, from the somewhat ribald "Fager som en ros / Fair as a Rose," in which a couple ... succumb to temptation on the dance floor, to the humorously bizarre "Bonden och Kraken / The Farmer and the Crow," wherein we learn many good uses for a dead crow (the liner notes mention "rope from the guts, dung-forks from the feet, mast and sails from the wings...."). Not to mention "In a Hatta," which is a fast-paced rhyme consisting of twenty-two of the most popular Swedish goat names!
The most captivating moments on this CD are the more serious-minded ballads. Songs such as "I vantan pa -- De tva kononungadot rarna / The King's Daughters," "Nar barnen mister mor och far / When children go without mother or father," and "Den Fortrollade barnafoderskan / The bewitched mother-to-be" (this last is noted as being one of Sweden's oldest ballads, lyrics and music dating from around 1600) achieve a near perfect balance between the gifted voices of the women and the sometimes gentle and delicate, sometimes fast-paced and rollicking accompaniment of the two musicians. Engelbrecht's guitar and mandola, when paired with Roswall's masterful fiddling, are a perfect complement to the vocals, always supporting, and never overpowering.
Ranarim bear witness to the very vibrant and alive Swedish folk scene, joining other young bands in reawakening the old traditions by infusing them with new life and new twists, and ensuring they won't be soon forgotten. If you are at all fond of Nordic music, or of Nordic folklore, you will find much to like on this CD.