Vaylan Virrassa
(Caprice, 2002)

The natives of Sweden's Torne River valley inhabit a border zone. In the 19th century, their river was the border between Sweden and Russia; now the neighbor is Finland. Tornedalen, as it is known, is an area of northern Sweden with its own Finnish-derived language (Mean Kieli) and its own culture; it is the mirror image of those parts of western Finland that are culturally Swedish.

Jord ("Earth") is Erling Fredriksson (double bass, harp, flute), Jan Johansson (accordion, double bass), Gun Olofsson (guitar, flute, percussion) and Susanne Rantatalo (percussion). All four sing. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't tell who sings on the different tracks; it would be nice to know the individuals featured on the different songs.

Johansson's accordion drives most of the tracks. Jord has a somewhat split personality. Many tracks are the stark ballads native to the Nordic countries: "Iso Lintu Merikotka" is a lament that features Olofsson's and Rantatalo's intertwining voices as well as Fredriksson's harp. There are also more up-tempo numbers; these are peppy dance tunes and songs, some of which fit the "schlager" type of European popular music. "Romppadansen" and "Den Lycklige Laxens Humppa" would be right at home in a smoky Parisian cafe.

"Jopparilaulu" is rooted in local history. It is based on a smuggling case from the 1950s; the newspaper article about the affair provides the spoken-word introduction to the song. Vaylan Virrassa concludes with "Oohan Meila Viela Kieli," a statement of pride in Tornedalen's culture and language. Liner notes are in Swedish with English summaries; complete lyrics are given but aren't translated.

Vaylan Virrassa is a musical postcard from a region with its own unique culture. It's worth having for that reason alone. Even for those who do not wish to make a study of Nordic music, this is a fun CD with plenty of character.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 30 August 2003