Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, & Charlie Pilzer, Hambo in the Snow (Azalea City Recordings, 2006)

Traditional Scandinavian fiddling has enough of a foothold in this country that folk dances featuring live music take place in several cites, and a handful of rural areas as well, on a regular basis. Two of the best known American fiddlers in the Swedish and Norwegian traditions are Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley. Recently the pair teamed up with bassist/accordionist Charlie Pilzer to record a CD called Hambo in the Snow, featuring tunes inspired by the Nordic winter.

Most of the tunes on Hambo in the Snow either come from, or are based on, the many different styles in the Swedish fiddling tradition. Kelley adds a few pieces from Norway, which she plays on her hardingfele. (The hardingfele, or hardanger fiddle, is a specially tuned violin unique to a particular region of Norway, with many strings underneath the four bowed ones that provide harmonics and give the instrument a distinctive sound. If you know the Rohan theme from the Lord of the Rings movies then you've heard the instrument, although that particular motif is played in much more of a classical fashion than a folk one.)

The twenty-one tunes on this CD encompass a wide range of styles. Most of the pieces are variations of the polska, a 3/4 tune with emphasis on the first and third beats in the measure. Many villages or regions in Sweden have not only their own particular style of polska, but their own dance to accompany the tune. There are also waltzes, schottishes, and polketts for variety. Hoag and Kelley add a few songs, and a medley of Christmas tunes contains a song sung by the children of a friend of theirs. There is more than enough variety in the style and tempo that anybody even remotely interested in fiddle music should find something to their liking.

Ironically, Hambo in the Snow is truer to the tradition than a lot of the "modern folk" recordings coming out of Sweden and Norway on the NorthSide label. While I've always been partial to the newer, generally edgier Swedish folk music purveyed by the likes of Väsen and Hedningarna, recordings like this one enable the listener to fully understand appreciate the tradition behind what the new Nordic folk musicians are doing, and are perfectly enjoyable on their own terms when superior musicians are performing.

Indeed, Hambo in the Snow succeeds largely because of the quality and clarity of the playing. As a member of the New York Spelmanslag (spelmanslag is a Swedish term for a group of traditional musicians) for the past seven years, I have had a few opportunities to meet Andrea Hoag and Loretta Kelley. I have learned much from playing with the both of them, and was already familiar with much of the material performed on the CD as a result. I can say without exaggeration that Hoag and Kelley set a standard for performance on Hambo in the Snow that our group aspires to attain. Fans of fiddle music in general will certainly enjoy this, and anybody curious about Nordic musical traditions should find this worth their while as well.

Overall grade: B+

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