Triakel's first album was a collection of traditional Swedish ballads, the bloodier the better. For this follow-up, Triakel has turned to winter songs, the "vintervisor" of the album's title. Most are songs or settings of poems about Christmas or St. Stephen's Day. To follow the theme, the CD booklet is illustrated with beautiful photos of winter landscapes. In the U.S., Vintervisor has been released under the title WinterSongs by NorthSide.
Triakel is Kjell-Erik Eriksson (fiddle), Emma Hardelin (vocals) and Janne Stromstedt (harmonium). Eriksson is the fiddler for the heavy rock-folk hybrid Hoven Droven, while Hardelin's voice is one of the great strengths of Garmarna. Guest Benny Andersson of ABBA contributes accordion; he also co-wrote the song that gave the project its initial impetus, "Innan Gryningen (The Silence of the Dawn)." Although many think of pop when they hear Andersson's name, he has recently been involved in traditional music (among other things).
The combination of fiddle, harmonium, accordion and voice makes an intimate setting for the songs. Hardelin's voice is clear and precise; even if you don't speak Swedish, you'll be able to follow the lyrics in the liner notes (which are completely in Swedish, by the way). The harmonium adds a particularly nice seasonal touch; it harkens back to a full church organ but has a more homey sound. The production by Triakel, Gustav Hylen and Bernard Lohr is clean and lets nothing detract from the music. This adds to Vintervisor's intimate quality.
The pieces range from the whimsical "Julgranspolska (The Christmas Tree Polska)" to the sober "Innan Gryningen," which is billed as a millenial hymn. "Bergslagsjul (Christmas in the Mining District)" is a festive waltz; the staffansvisas (songs for St. Stephen's Day) also tend to be lively. Non-Swedish speakers can find English translations of the lyrics online at NorthSide's website; they are worth perusing to learn the meaning of the songs. In addition to religious songs praising the season in familiar terms, there are more downbeat numbers such as "Torspar-Julaftas-Vaggvisa (The Crofter's Christmas Eve Lullaby)," which paints the picture of a poor family hoping that the wealthier farmers of the district send a bit of largesse to the less fortunate. "Mormors Julstjarna (Grandma's Christmas Star)" is a tale about what might be a Christmas miracle, albeit a down-to-earth one.
Vintervisor is just the thing for the Yuletide season. There's some frolic, some solemnity, some stories that are by turns heartwarming, nostalgic or poignant. Taken together, they create a well-rounded picture of the season; Vintervisor is a well-chosen selection of songs indeed. That these tunes are presented by such fine musicians just makes it even better, and it means that this album is as enjoyable to hear on the eve of the summer solstice as it is in the darkest time of the year.