Till Ljusan Dag
(Drone, 2000)

Ranarim is a quartet of young Swedish musicians that hail from different parts of the country. All participate in other musical projects; singers Ulrika Boden and Sofia Sanden sing with the group Rosenberg 7, nyckelharper Niklas Roswall is part of the Nyckelharpa Orchestra and guitarist Jens Engelbrecht is in the band Hulling. It is fortunate that they found each other, because Ranarim is a fine group in its own right.

The sound is simple enough: the combination of strings and women's voices, along with occasional uncredited percussion. The results are often nothing short of sublime, however. Boden and Sanden have crystalline voices of great beauty and they let them intertwine in a way that isn't done justice by the idea of "harmony." Sometimes they sound almost as if they are singing a round, as on "Stolt Ingrid (Proud Ingrid)." The nyckelharpa's sound would fit early music well, and Engelbrecht also plays mandora, a precursor to the mandolin; this enhances the early music impression.

Ranarim doesn't seek to dazzle with wild antics or showy performances; they merely present an interesting variety of music well. Some of the old texts are set to new melodies, but these new melodies fit seamlessly with the traditional ones. Since Ranarim's name is meant to suggest a weave of the old and the new, this is only fitting.

Till Ljusan Dag is an overview of Swedish folk songs from across the country, ranging from long ballads to shorter humorous songs. The credits for the traditional pieces give the musician from whose repertoire the song was taken and the place the musician was from. Full Swedish lyrics of all songs are given in the liner notes; more concise liner notes are also given in both English and French, so listeners who don't read Swedish can get the gist of the songs. (Till Ljusan Dag has been released as Till the Light of Day by NorthSide in the United States.)

Ranarim performs a number of ballads, intriguing stories that will tempt any student of folktales to seek out more Swedish legends. For example, "Balladen om Systern och Brodern (The Ballad of the Sister and Brother)" is about a sword-wielding woman who rescues her brother from an evil count. The touching "De TvŒ Konungadšttrarna (The King's Daughters)" tells the story of a queen who loses and then regains her two daughters. You don't need to understand a word of Swedish to comprehend the wistfulness in "NŠr Barnen Mister Mor och Far (When Children Go Without Mother or Father)," a song about orphans. There is also more light-hearted fare, such as "Hin Œ HŠtta," which verges on mouth music as it lists a litany of favorite goat names. "Bonden och KrŒkan (The Farmer and the Crow)" enumerates uses for various parts of a dead corvid!

Almost all of the pieces on the album are songs, with Roswall's original polska "Rackelhanen" the only instrumental. Even so, the playing does not take a back seat to the vocals. Ranarim may come across as a kinder, gentler Hedningarna at first glance, but there are plenty of dark undercurrents here. These musicians can be cheery one moment and intense the next, depending on what each song requires. The result is a fine package of Swedish traditional music. Any lover of Nordic folk will love this album, and it is also a good introduction to Swedish folk music for the novice.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 18 January 2003

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