various artists,
Wizard Women of the North
(NorthSide, 1999)

This album isn't for everyone.

But people who like to travel the world and sample its musical cultures like new and colorful cuisines, Wizard Women of the North is a tasty introduction to the Nordic music traditions, which are even now undergoing a global revival.

This sampler album provides listeners with an excellent assortment of music from female singers from the Scandinavian lands of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The songs are at times harsh and strident, owing their style to the tradition of kulning, a haunting, air-piercing herding call. Other tracks are gentle and mystical. All are sung in their native languages, and each wrings from the listener an image of cold, unending arctic nights.

You won't learn much from the sparse liner notes of this sampler, which provides some lovely, lyrical text about Wizard Women of the North as a subset of Nordic culture. Such a woman, writer Pernille Anker explains, "is burdened with the memory of long, hard winters, and she knows that without that ballast she would never be able to play and sing the songs she has inherited from her foremothers. Yes, she comes from a long line of foremothers, both ordinary earth-dwellers and the mysterious mountain and hill folk. Not many of the women on this recording know how to milk a goat, but several of them know old women who have been milkmaids on summer mountain farms all their lives. These women sang while they worked and in their free time, and have passed their traditional songs on to new generations of female musicians."

Of course, this doesn't tell us much about the specific lineage of the 19 tracks found on Wizard Women of the North, nor does it help us identify some of the odder instruments joining the fiddles, whistles, upright basses and guitars and providing background to the startling voices spotlighted here.

It does, at least, list the names of the women and bands represented, as well as the albums from which individual tracks were lifted. Performers are Pernille Anker, Kirsten Braten Berg, Aurora Borealis, Mari Eggen & Helene Hoye, Tone Hulbaekmo, Sinikka Langeland, Annbjorg Lien, Susanne Lundeng, Hege Rimestad, Susanne Rosenberg, Asne Sunniva Soreide, Tallari and Tellu.

Anyone inspired by the sounds can track down more information and order individual artists' albums from the NorthSide Web site. Anyone fascinated by the musical culture of Northern Europe should at least whet his or her palate with a taste from this well-rounded sampler.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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