(NorthSide, 1998)

Newcomers to Nordic folk music sometimes comment on how Celtic-sounding it can be. Aficionados of music from the Shetland and Orkney Islands know that the Nordic influence there runs as deep as the Celtic. It was only a matter of time until a group came along to explore the links between these musics.

Swap is composed of two Brits and two Swedes, and the blend results in 100 percent good music. The Brits are accordionist Karen Tweed and guitarist Ian Carr, the Swedes are fiddlers Ola Backstrom and Carina Normansson. All are involved in other musical projects but it's a good thing for listeners that they made room for Swap.

These musicians clearly love playing together and it comes across in the energy of the compositions and the performances. There are several pieces that clock in at over five minutes, but even these epics don't drag. Any fan of acoustic music will love getting lost in the tapestry of sound; players of acoustic music, especially in bands, may find ideas for their own playing. Repeated spins of the disc bring out subtleties in the pieces and it is fun to follow the different instrumental lines as they weave through each piece, converse with each other and set up each others' parts. Even with the variety in moods that is found on Swap, the album hangs together well. This is a real group, not an assortment of star players each taking a turn out front.

It is difficult to single out highlights because the quality of the compositions and playing is uniformly high. There are energetic romps like "Red Jacket" and more mellow pieces like "Moklinta." The album's conclusion, the haunting "Dream Waltz," features Normansson's kulning, which is the only vocal performance on the album. Swap often weds English or Celtic tunes with Swedish ones to form a medley; for example, "Congress" combines "The Congress Reel" and "Springlek Fran Lima." Some tunes are original and others are written by one of the band members or by another contemporary musician. Whatever a melody's source, Swap weaves it seamlessly into the music.

Perhaps the best comparison to Swap is the Irish group Solas. The instrumentation is similar in some ways, the playing is equally skilled in both groups and the music builds on the traditional while seeking new frontiers. If this is your musical cup of tea, Swap deserves a place in your record collection.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 7 June 2003

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