Boot, Soot (Caprice Records, 2009)

The genre of New Nordic Folk music went through a wildly creative period in the nineties, with recordings by groups like Värttinä, Hedningarna, and Väsen ranking among the essential albums in any genre for the decade. While the musical traditions of the Scandinavia remained rich and vibrant in the decade just past, there have been very few really great albums in the genre since Värttinä's Ilmatar and Gjallarhorn's Sjofn came out in 2000. Happily, the recently reunited group Boot have added their names to the short list of elite Nordic bands with the release of their new album Soot.

In its original form, Boot consisted of Swedish fiddler Ola Bäckstrom, best known internationally for his work in the band Swåp, and Hedningarna's Hallbus Totte Mattson and Björn Tollin on lute and percussion. They recorded an album called Virvla in 1999, and performed live with a team of dancers. Bäckstrom and Mattson recently decided to revive Boot after a break of nearly ten years, with Tollin's place filled by Samuel Andersson. The versatile Andersson has a long history with Mattson, having backed up Hurdy-Gurdy for a live performance at the Nordic Roots Festival a few years back and recently joined Hedningarna as an extra fiddler. On Soot he mostly plays percussion, but he proves to be the spark plug that ignites most of the tracks on this CD.

The tunes on Soot, mostly composed by either Bäckstrom or Andersson, by themselves fit rather neatly within the confines of Swedish traditional fiddling. Boot's arrangements take the tunes out of the tradition and into a very different place entirely, however. Like Hedningarna, Boot incorporate elements of both Medieval and modern music, with an emphasis on primal energy. The difference is that most of Hedningarna's best music relies heavily on electronics, while Boot's sound is almost completely acoustic. Of the three musicians, Bäckstrom has the easiest job as the primary player of the melodies. Mattson plays a more subtle yet no less vital role, using his lute to strum chords, pluck a rhythmic bass line, provide some very Baroque-sounding countermelodies, and occasionally take the lead role as well. Andersson controls the energy level, hitting on a vast assortment of drums from all parts of the world. At times he provides a simple, steady beat, and at times he sounds like an onrushing one-man army.

There are plenty of highlights on Soot to choose from. The opening tune "Itku/Balkan" combines a traditional march with a Bäckstrom composition that combines a gypsy melodic structure with a rhythm that could pass for a slip jig as easily as a polska. Andersson's "Godrun" has an irresistible groove, despite a meter that constantly shifts. The percussion on Bäckstrom's "Murven" gives the polska the flavor of an intense belly dance rapidly reaching crescendo. Andersson does something truly unique on the traditional polska "Lillasystern" when he plays the melody on his drum the second time through. The rat-a-tat-tat drumming on Bäckstrom's "Rödhåringen" turns a simple schottish into a rock-and-roll tune.

It's been a while -- nearly a decade, in fact -- since I've heard a Nordic album as good as Soot. It succeeds in maintaining its roots in the tradition while reaching explosive levels of energy. I really, really hope Boot do not go another ten years before making another disc.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2010 The Green Man Review

No comments: