Music Reviews May 2013

Hedningarna, &: This month's reviews start with the return of a legendary Swedish band from the 90s called Hedningarna. Their albums Trä (1994) and Hippjokk (1996) are required listening for their groundbreaking combination of the most primal elements of Scandinavian folk and modern electronics. Their new album & is their first studio release since 1999, though. Original members Anders Norudde (fiddles, bagpipes, and vocals) and Totte Mattson (lute and hurdy-gurdy) are joined by Samuel Andersson (fiddles, percussion, and a surprising amount of vocals) on this collection. & suffers a bit from inconsistency on the songs, but Andersson does a nice job on the fun, edgy polka "Mycket vil ha mera." The instrumentals (and mostly instrumentals) are predictably the strength of this current line-up, and tunes like "Torget" and "Soppan" will provide some happy reminders to long-time fans of how great this band was in their heyday. A-

Frigg, Polka V: This mostly Finnish (with one Norwegian) fiddling ensemble have entered their second decade with a bang. Polka V (their fifth studio album) has a handful of new twists -- the opening tune "Vierivä" has a great great guitar intro, the title tune ventures into hot club jazz, and "Seronda" is a reel worthy of the Emerald Isle. But really, the most apt description of the album is "more of the same, only better." Both the energy and overall musicianship are superb. Frigg have always been a fun listen, but Polka V is their strongest album to date. A

Midnight Oil, Essential Oils: If any rock band made better music than Midnight Oil during the years that they were active (1978-2002), I am not aware of them. "The Oils," as their fans call them, spent twenty-five years combining relentless intensity, superior musicianship, and a zealous belief in the power of music to make the world a better place; simply put, nobody meant it like Midnight Oil did. The comprehensive 2 CD retrospective Essential Oils (just released in the US this week) covers the band's entire history, featuring at least one song from each studio release. The band picked the songs for it, and while I might have done a couple of things differently -- most notably, I'd have included the heart-stopping live version of "Only the Strong" over the studio version -- I certainly can't dispute the choices. With so much of their history unknown to audiences outside of their native Australia, the album is aimed at people who might only know "Beds Are Burning" or "Blue Sky Mine" rather than the hardcore fans. This is fine, as the hardcore fans already know the whole catalog by heart. I'd still recommend getting every recording of the band you can find, but if you need an introduction (or re-introduction) to an often overlooked band who deserve to be ranked among the very best that rock music has produced, this will do. A+

reviewed by Scott

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