Kuunkuiskaajat (Magnum Music, 2010)

For most of the past decade, Susan Aho and Johanna Virtanen have sung together in the Finnish folk group Värttinä. With that band on an extended break, Aho and Virtanen took the opportunity to record on their own as a duo called Kuunkuiskaajat ("Moonwhisperers" in English). While their sound is a bit scaled back relative to Värttinä, Kuunkuiskaajat bring the same catchy fun to their self-titled debut recording.

If it wasn't already hard enough to discuss Kuunkuiskaajat without making frequent references to Aho and Virtanen's other band, most of their supporting cast have a connection to Värttinä as well. Bassist/producer Tom Nyman, guitarist Tommi Viksten, and drummer Anssi Nykänen all contributed to Värttinä albums in the early nineties, before either singer joined the band. Petri Hakala, the renowned Finnish mandolinist who guests on the album, also played briefly with Värttinä. Lyricist Timo Kiisken had collaborated previously with Aho on a couple of songs off Värttinä's album 2003 iki, and he contributes to all the songs on this record.

This isn't a bad thing, though, if you happen to like Värttinä and you've been waiting a while for some new music from them. In general, Kuunkuiskaajat is quieter than a typical Värttinä recording; with one less voice and one or two less instruments to work with, Aho and Virtanen don't aim for the big, energetic sound that characterizes most Värttinä albums. They maintain the folk/pop hybrid as a base for their sound, but then go in more subtle directions with it. A couple of the songs, particularly "Loputon Tie," have a bit of a Jazz Age feel that reminds me in a good way of bands like Paris Combo or The Ditty Bops. The tango-influenced "Taivaallinen" features some nice accordion playing from Aho. The opening song "Kahden" and the single "Tyolki Ellaa" (a semifinalist at Eurovision this year) are a pair of sweet-sounding polkas, keeping a steady pace without getting too fast to divert attention from the vocal harmonies. The vocals on this record reflect the pleasant and charming side of Värttinä's style, without getting into the darker, more challenging elements that show up from time to time.

Kuunkuiskaajat is fine example of the diversity of contemporary Finnish folk music and the talent of the performers involved with it. Long-time fans of Värttinä have every reason to get the disc, which is available on line at least at Digelius and possibly elsewhere as well. People interested in the style, or simply looking for anything with good singing and good playing, will find plenty to like here as well.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

"Työlki Ellää." Gotta love the poster in the back.

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