(NorthSide, 1999)

The percussion hits you like a forcible blow. Then the fiddle goes wild, and you quickly reach over to crank up the volume.

The tune "Ludgo-Johan," a Mats Edén original, begins Groupa's album Lavalek with a resounding impact. The flute joins in, dancing along with rugged power. You don't want the tune to end.

For those who, like me, have never heard this Swedish folk band before, Groupa makes an immediate impression. And what an impression it is! The band's four instrumentalists have had 15 years to hone their style, and their talent and joy in music is quickly apparent. Besides Edén, Groupa's very accomplished fiddler, the musicians are Jonas Simonson on flutes, Rickard Åström on keyboards and Terje Isungset, the band's token Norwegian, on innovative, hard-to-ignore percussion.

Those who are already familiar with Groupa's long history have a surprise waiting for them in track 2 -- the addition of vocalist Sofia Karlsson, who sings passionately along with the music in "Röken (Smoke)." She shines even more on "Bliv du till gran (If You Became a Spruce)," a love song oddly enough about turning into trees, and "Berg och Dalar (Mountains and Valleys)," and she adds lovely, nonlyrical vocals to tunes such as "Morkullan (The Woodcock)" and "Isungen."

But Lavalek is still largely an instrumental album, and the boys in the band are very good at what they do. The album is over before you know it but, if you had the right foresight, you've already hit repeat so you can hear it again. There are no throw-away tracks here, and there's enough variety throughout that you shouldn't get tired of it for a good, long while.

Besides "Ludgo-Johan," Edén contributes the album's title track. "Lavalek," with Åström's electric organ underscoring Edén's fiddle and Simonson's flute, has a very modern, jazzy feel which adds great variety to the album. Simonson also checks in with his original composition, the lovely, less forceful "Nytt tak (New Roof)."

Groupa is an extremely energetic band which, if they played "plugged," would probably blow your speakers out. They sometimes pump out a slightly jumbled, vaguely industrial sound, yet their roots in Swedish traditions are apparent. And this is another band in which each member plays a vital role -- the sound of each musician's instruments seems to be an inextricable part of the whole, and the addition of Karlsson's voice makes it all the sweeter.

If you have any interest in the musical traditions of northern Europe, you really need to check out this band.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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