(Northside, 2002)

Gjallarhorn is a group of musicians from Finland's west coast, also known as Ostrobothnia. This part of Finland looks across the Bothnian Sea to Sweden and the Swedish influence on the region is still extremely strong today, many years after Finland was part of the Swedish empire. Many people from this region claim Swedish, not Finnish, as their mother tongue, and some Swedish music has survived here but not in Sweden. Gjallarhorn specializes in interpreting this strain of folk music, one which is shared by both countries.

Gjallarhorn plays traditional Nordic music with well-chosen touches from other traditions. The group already has two good albums under its belt (Ranarop and Sjofn), and Grimborg continues the progression. With it, Gjallarhorn confirms its status as one of the cream of the crop in the Nordic folk scene.

Jenny Wilhelms sings with strength and clarity, often accompanying herself on violin or hardanger fiddle. Adrian Jones plays viola and mandola. Tommy Mansikka-Aho's didgeridoo might seem a novelty at first, but its drone fills the role of bagpipes. This music may have originated on the other side of the world from Australia, but the didgeridoo sounds totally at home in it. Varied percussion by David Lillkvist adds flavor and spice to the music. It is a tribute to the skill of this band that what might be disparate elements blend together perfectly. The production (by Martin Kantola and Jenny Wilhelms) is sometimes lush but never inappropriate.

Grimborg includes versions of several songs that have been previously recorded, both by Gjallarhorn and by other Nordic musicians. These new versions hold their own. It takes guts to record a version of "Vallevan" when that ballad has been done by the legendary Lena Willemark and Groupa, but Wilhelms and company are more than up to the task. Their reinventions of songs prevously recorded on their own albums are genuine reworkings, not inferior retreads. The versions of "Herr Olof" that appear on Ranarop and Grimborg are very different in arrangement and mood.

Most tracks are ballads; there are a few instrumentals as well. The spine-tingling "Kulning" is Wilhelms' extended session of traditional herding calls. The strongest cuts are the songs, where Wilhelms' voice floats over the instruments, often to hypnotic effect.

Gjallarhorn has gone from being a group that interprets old songs in a mostly traditional manner to a group that uses traditional music as a springboard for its own creativity and vision. The group's use of non-Nordic instruments and unusual arrangements creates dreamy soundscapes that invite the listener to get lost in them. It is an invitation worth accepting.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 8 March 2003

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