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Monday, June 25, 2012

Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød reaches a new apex

Posted By on 06.25.12 at 05:41 PM

Susanna Wallumrød
  • Susanna Wallumrød
In February I posted a song from If Grief Could Wait (ECM), a collaboration between Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød and Swiss baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi, as a 12 O'Clock Track. On that album Wallumrød and Pessi, joined by nyckelharp player Marco Ambrosini and viola de gamba player Jane Achtman, deftly interpret songs by 17th-century baroque British composer Henry Purcell—along with tunes by Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. Wallumrød's precise, translucently beautiful voice sounds lighter than air, but she projects real power; there's nothing fluttery or slight about her singing.

In May Wallumrød released her latest solo effort, Wild Dog (Rune Grammofon), presenting a much different side of her musical personality but doing little to change the essence of her voice. It sounds to me like her best recording yet. All the songs are original compositions, and she's supported by an excellent band featuring Jeremy Gara of the Arcade Fire on drums and Chicago's own Emmett Kelly (aka the Cairo Gang and a trusted partner of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, himself a huge fan of Susanna) on guitar and harmony singing. On the arresting opener, "Imagine" (which you can hear below), his vocals add extraordinary beauty and depth to the performance.

I never thought about the influence Joni Mitchell might have had on Wallumrød, but I think it's undeniable here. Though their voices aren't particularly similar, their tunes share an elegant elasticity that stretches folk-pop into the world of jazz without getting lost in empty virtuosity. Wild Dog sounds introspective, but much of it has a churning restlessness that's rare on Wallumrød's much more austere earlier records. Most of the songs deal with heartbreak, loneliness, and longing—familiar topics—but her lyrics add an otherworldly mystery, particularly when she turns to nature. "There's a wolf in my garden / He's a starving soul," she sings on "Starving Soul"; on "Oh, I Am Stuck" she's lost in a field of mud. As bleak as the lyrics may sound, though, the magisterial melodies and Wallumrød's honeyed voice lift the music upward, achieving something truly magical. It's one of my favorites of 2012.

Today's playlist:

Gianluca Petrella, Paolino Dalla Porta, and Fabrizio Sferra, Il Bagno Turco (Parco Della Musica)
Nate Wooley Quintet, (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed)
Fabian Almazan Trio, Personalities (Biophilia)
David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights, Left by Soft (Merge)
Zoot Sims-Henri Renaud, Night Session in Paris (Universal, France)

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