174: Vocal Line, ‘Don’t Give Up’

Posted by jeff on May 24, 2013 in A Cappella, Nordic, Song Of the week

Vocal Line – ‘Don’t Give Up’

Jens Johansen

Here I am back on earth, still floating, not yet fighting the decompression blues, after 5 days in Denmark at the Aarhus Vocal Festival, a celebration of contemporary a cappella pop, jazz, folk and beyond. Members of this community (some call it a cult) gather mostly from Northern Europe, but as far afield as Taiwan, Brazil and San Francisco, for a fete of concerts and workshops led by world luminaries. And an incredible amount of communal love.

There’s a strong connection between singing and communality. Ask anyone who’s sung in a choir. You may not love all the members of the choir, but there’s an electric charge in joining together in an aesthetic group effort, with 10 or 20 or 200 people joining to create one voice that can reach the skies.

These Scandinavian a cappella festivals exude love. It’s a young people’s genre, mostly in their 20s, but embracing even us antiquarians. The music is fun, surprising, joyful, all over the musical map. There’s little money or media fame involved, and the stars take pride in their non-celebrity. I was at Woodstock. Believe me, there’s a lot more communal warmth (and less mud) here.

I met a guy on the train who was coming from Belgium to hear Bruce Springsteen in Denmark. They say Bruce is a really nice guy, but you’re watching him with 20,000 strangers from 3 kilometers away, with 500 armed guards in between you and him. Here, an hour after the show, you share a beer with the artist and hug him and thank him for the fine show, and he tells you how excited he was… Who de boss now?

Kate Bush urging Peter Gabriel, ‘Don’t Give Up’

Aarhus boasts the only university in the world, I believe, where one can study for an advanced degree in ‘rhythm choral direction’, i.e., this new and growing genre. You may know its American cousin from Glee and Sing-Off. I’m talking about something wholly other. The contemporary a cappella centered in Scandinavia is the paragon of purity, the quintessence of refinement. It’s an aesthetic I was first exposed to about seven years ago via The Real Group and haven’t ceased obsessing over since.

I’m often accused of being blindly biased towards Scandinavia, but there’s little fear of me converting to Nordicism. My hair is unfair, my skin isn’t pure as fallen snow, my nose doesn’t have that cute little pert upturn, my mind isn’t generous and accepting, my demeanor isn’t relaxed, my temperament isn’t tolerant. Among the Nords, I feel that much more analytical, neurotic, uptight, and judgmental. It’s my genes, my upbringing, my inborn nature, my cultural conditioning. But I do love them and their music.

Jens Johansen conducting Vocal Line

We in the west are accustomed to resonance as a fundamental vocal coloring. These Nords developed a different sound, expressed at its extreme in kulning, a sort of yodel they use to call in the cows from several valleys away. Here’s a clip from a workshop at my first festival in 2008, The Real Festival, in which Morten Kjaer pulls a group of singers in this direction. If you listen carefully, he first reflects the resonant sound the singers are making, then changes it to the more muscular version he’s seeking.

The Real Group

At first this sound may seem to us Westerners flat, metallic, loud, shouting, angry. But that’s all tempered by the Scandinavian cool, reserve, discretion, modesty. In my last SoTW, I presented an example of this anti-vibrato style as it sounds in a gentle context: The Real Group’s ‘Nature Boy’.

It was at their The Real Festival in 2008 that I first encountered Vocal Line, the 32-voice choir led by Jens Johansen. They sang a primarily pop repertoire in English, from ‘my’ songs (‘Blue’, ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’, ‘Brought to My Senses’) to songs a bit newer or more Danish than what I was familiar with (‘Crucify’, ‘Audition Day’, ‘Viola’, ‘Viva La Vida’). There were also songs I should have known but didn’t, like Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, Björk‘s ‘Jóga’, and especially Peter Gabriel’s ‘Mercy Street’ and ‘Don’t Give Up’. I would later become infatuated with their treatments of ‘The Garden‘ and ‘Say Ladeo‘ from Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS”, written and arranged by Roger Treece.

Jens Johansen

Their music was jarring for me – familiar but profoundly ‘other’, demanding a new sort of listening. It’s taken me years of listening, and my love for and admiration of Jens’ music continues to grow and grow. Their music is pure, unadulterated beauty. It’s what all art should aspire to, not just contemporary a cappella choirs. Not necessarily their chosen style, but their commitment and seriousness and utter respect for their materials.

I still believe the world would be a better place if Jens would arrange Brian Wilson’s undiscovered gem ‘Kiss Me, Baby’ or one of the acknowledged masterpieces from “Pet Sounds.” I won’t tell you the lengths to which I’ve gone to try to make that happen—it’s embarrassing and bordering on the lunatic. Maybe Jens will vindicate me some day.

I have never been a fan of Genesis or Peter Gabriel. I don’t dislike them, I just somehow never got familiar enough with them to cuddle up to them. But Vocal Line’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ has entranced me for years. I listened to it over. And over. And over. Reveling in the symphonic tapestry, the haunting harmonies, the subtlest of rhythmic movements.

Roger Treece and Jens Johansen–a meeting of giants

One of the many highlights of the Aarhus festival was that I had the honor to learn the song from the score and sing it under the baton of Mr Johansen himself. It’s challenging choral music, stretching me to the extremes of my limited abilities. My feeling of inadequacy was made no better by the 17-year old kid standing next to me in the choir who was handling it all flawlessly, without blinking.

Singing a choral arrangement is different from listening to it. It’s the difference between seeing pictures of Manhattan from a helicopter and walking the streets. The difference between looking at a picture of your loved one and embracing her. The difference between smelling a fragrant soup and eating it. It’s the real thing. It’s loving it from within.

Even now, I listen to Peter Gabriel’s original version of ‘Don’t Give Up’, and find it–well, okay. Kind of appealing, kind of annoying. But then I listen to and follow the score of Jens’ Vocal Line version, and I know that the utter beauty that entrances me is in his arrangement.

The verses are in the voice of a man suddenly unemployed, grappling with disillusionment and fear and the loneliness of abandonment: No fight left or so it seems/I am a man whose dreams have all deserted/I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name/But no one wants you when you lose. The chorus is the comforting Woman (sung by Kate Bush): Don’t give up/’cos you have friends/Don’t give up/You’re not beaten yet/Don’t give up/I know you can make it good.

I’d like to focus on the first phrase of the chorus, the “Don’t give up”. Here’s the original. And here’s Vocal Line’s treatment of the same phrase. Here’s what it looks like on paper, described to the best of my unprofessional ability, probably with numerous mistakes:

The word “don’t” is sung by the males in a rhythmically uneven three-step/four-note arpeggio, a rising Fm7+9 chord (in the key of E flat, i.e., IIm7+9), F>C>G+Aflat (I>V>IX+IIIm, with a strong half-step dissonance at the top). The rhythm, I believe, if we count it on 16th notes is 1/3/4. This is all followed by all the female voices singing in harmony “Don’t give up”, starting on E flat+F+A flat. Oh, hell.

If I read that paragraph, it would be utter gibberish to me, too. But I can follow the notes, sing them (with some effort). I consider myself blessed to have the ability (and the opportunity, with Jens Johansen standing in front of the choir) to look at those notes, sing them, feel the profound beauty in them, and be moved.

I apologize for any technical blunders I’ve made in my attempts to describe this singing style and the music itself. I realize I’m talking above my own head. But I won’t be denied the profound respect, admiration and affection I feel for the music, however far north it is from my native aural landscape.

Thanks, Jens.

 If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’
071: Lyy, ‘Giftavisan’
063: Pust, ‘En Reell Halling’
Aarhus Vocal Festival, 2013
173: The Real Group, ‘Nature Boy’
172: Anúna, ‘Jerusalem’
047: Bobby McFerrin, ‘The Garden’ (“VOCAbuLarieS”)

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173: The Real Group, ‘Nature Boy’

Posted by jeff on May 10, 2013 in A Cappella, Nordic, Song Of the week, Vocalists

The Real Group — ‘Nature Boy’

A cause for celebration

The Real Group, 2013

Four Swedes and a Dane recently climbed up on bar stools in a living room with a few friends in Södermalm, Stockholm. What the big deal? They’re The Real Group, the best singing group in the world; they sang ‘Nature Boy’ breathtakingly, with an exquisite lead by Emma Nilsdotter in an inspired arrangement by Anders Edenroth; it was filmed with impeccable taste; and the result is just a little perfect.

The Real Group and Contemporary A Cappella

The Real Group honed their a cappella jazz skills in the late 1980s as five buddies doing their academy studies together in Stockholm. They invented their own academic program, and a whole new take on group jazz singing. Inspired more by Bobby McFerrin’s restrained virtuosity than by Manhattan Transfer’s brash, brassy showiness, they reworked Count Basie arrangements in a five-voice context and sparked an entire musical movement, Contemporary A Cappella, with luminaries such as Rajaton (Finland), Vocal Line (Denmark), The Swingle Singers in their current very hip incarnation (UK), The Idea of North (Australia), and even obliquely Take Six (US). Here’s a SoTW I wrote about The Real Group a while back, with lots of links to their music.

The Real Group, 2013

Contemporary a cappella may be a small movement compared to hip-hop or trance, but its devotees are passionate and growing in numbers. And we all know what passionate cults are capable of. I’m flying this week to my third congregation of cultists, the second this year, at the Aarhus Vocal Festival in Denmark. As unique an experience as Woodstock was (yes, I was there—the Forrest Gump of musical fests), we hippies tended to stare at each other in bewilderment. Here it’s all hugs and grins and a sincere sense of brotherhood in harmony.

Much of this warmth is due to The Real Group themselves, because they’re warm, personable, down-to-earth people. Remember how everyone copied The Beatles’ mop tops? TRG’s modesty has become the currency of our genre.

After twenty-eight years, The Real Group is still going strong (albeit with two changes from the original line-up). In recent years they’ve moved more towards original material – for example, ‘Pass Me the Jazz’ (the next clip to be released from the same session as ‘Nature Boy’); fine as it is, it’s a special pleasure to return to the Great American Songbook and one of its more unusual luminaries, ‘Nature Boy’.

Nat ‘King’ Cole

Nat ‘King’ Cole, eden ahbez

In 1947, a short, barefoot man with shoulder-length hair on a bicycle pushed a tattered score into the hand of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s manager, Mort Ruby, backstage at a theater in LA. Cole liked the Yiddish flavor and intriguing lyrics of the little song and began playing it in his shows. It went over very well, so he wanted to record it. Go find the composer in order to get the rights to the song.

Nat Cole (1919-1965) led a very successful jazz trio in the 1930s and 1940s as the pianist. The apocryphal story is that one night a rowdy drunk insisted that Nat sing ‘Sweet Lorraine’, it caught on, and he began singing more and more. His first hit was in 1943, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’, which Bo Diddley credited as being a precursor of rock and roll. And Bo Knows!!

In the late 1940s, Nat cemented his move from jazz piano to popular vocals – ‘The Christmas Song’ (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire), ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Unforgettable’, ‘Too Young’ and of course ‘Nature Boy’. But first we have to find that long-haired guy.

eden ahbez

The Family ahbez

Alexander Aberle was born in Brooklyn in 1908 to a Jewish father and Scottish mother, grew up in a Jewish orphanage till he was adopted at age 9 by a couple from Chanute, Kansas, who changed his name to George McGrew.

He worked in obscurity as a pianist and dance band leader till he got his breakthrough gig in LA in 1941— playing at a small health food store and raw food restaurant owned by a couple of German immigrants, adherents to the Lebensreform lifestyle of health food/raw food/organic food, nudism, sexual liberation, alternative medicine, and abstention from alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and vaccines.

Alexander/George renamed himself eden ahbez (‘only the words God and Infinity are worthy of capitalization’), but his friends called him ahbe. Together with wife Anna Jacobsen, their son Tatha Om and another dozen ‘tribesmen’, ahbe and The Nature Boys (recognize that name?) lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, slept in caves and trees, and bathed in waterfalls. They prided themselves on subsisting on under $3 a week.

The Nature Boys

The Nature Boys are today widely perceived as the precursors of the Hippie movement. Except for the bathing part.

One of the other notable Nature Boys was Gypsy Boots, aka Robert Bootzin. His health food store “Health Hut” was the first of its kind in the world, a celebrity hangout in the early 1960s. He invented his own renowned garlic cheese, the natural smoothie and the organic energy bar, cheered wildly at all USC football games, marched in parades, and swung from a vine on network TV shows – Groucho Marx, Spike Jones, and (25 times) The Steve Allen Show. His non-nature buddies included Marlon Brando, Jay Leno, Paul Newman and Muhammad Ali.

Meanwhile, Nat Cole’s people finally tracked down the ahbez family, living underneath the first ‘L’ of the HOLLYWOOD sign, and acquired the rights to record the song. Nat Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ became a megahit, eight weeks at #1 on the charts, but it turned out that ahbe had given a half dozen people different shares of the publishing rights, and he ended up with virtually nothing. (After Cole died, his wife eventually gave the rights back to ahbe in toto.)

Here’s a fascinating clip from a 1948 TV show, in which ahbe explains how he came to write ‘Nature Boy’ and then meets Nat Cole for the first time, live before the cameras. Well, kind of.

ahbe lived in relative obscurity (I guess under that “L”), eating nuts and being healthy. Incredibly (or maybe not, when you think about it), he’s shown in this photo with Brian Wilson during the recording of “SMiLE”, just before Brian’s breakdown. ahbe recorded a couple of albums including songs like Eden’s Cove, which is somewhere between Martin Denny and Wild Man Fisher. If you listen to the break at 1’10” you may really grasp the key to Brian Wilson’s mind and the meaning of the universe. As well as the taste of the garlic smoothie.

He died in 1995 at the age of 86 in a car accident.

‘Nature Boy’—The Song

eden ahbez

The structure of ‘Nature Boy’ is quite unusual—AB:

There was a boy,
A very strange, enchanted boy.
They say he wandered very far,
Very far, over land

and sea.
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he.

And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and kings, this he said to me:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.”

It’s really not much more than an extended introduction. To tell you the truth, it’s hard for me to explain its tremendous appeal.

Is it the melody? Anders Edenroth, tenor extraordinaire of The Real Group and arranger of their stunning version, says “I like to see it as a hybrid between jazz and the elastic approach of the Yiddish tradition.”

When those icy Swedes start talking about that Yiddish kvetch, I just melt. In Anders’ arrangement, after the initial AB, at 2’26”, the group opens the song into a Nordic expedition into the Heart of Yiddishism, an immaculate union of the pristine and the passionate.

Another Nature Boy

Bernard Malamud, one of my favorite authors, said “All men are Jews, though few men know it.” He explained this famous statement as “a metaphoric way of indicating how history, sooner or later, treats all men,” meaning I think that the default experience of Jews is suffering, that all individuals at some point in their lives are touched by the same suffering that has been the fabric of Jewish history. This is the background that informs Yiddish melodies.

When ‘Nature Boy’ became a hit, a Yiddish musical composer, Herman Yablokoff claimed that the melody to “Nature Boy” came from one of his songs, “Shvayg mayn harts” (“Be Still My Heart”). ahbe retorted that he “heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains.” They settled out of court for $25,000. No recording of Yablokoff’s song is known, but here’s another Yiddish song with the same title, about a blind Jewish orphan boy selling cigarettes and matches in the ghetto of Grodno during WWII to stay alive. If you look at a map, Grodno in Belarus really isn’t that far from Sweden.

ahbez et Wilson, January 1967

Or perhaps, as Anders suggests, “the enigmatic meaning of the lyrics has puzzled and attracted quite a few listeners.”

There’s something riveting about “The Little Prince”, that small, unblemished, all-knowing innocent, imparting the wisdom of the world to the rest of us. Ironically, ahbe himself later had some reservations about his own lyric: “To be loved in return is too much of a deal, and that has nothing to do with love.” He wanted to correct it to: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love, just to love, and be loved.”

It’s also interesting to note that the first two measures of the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ parallel the melody of the second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81 (1887). What do you have to say about that, Mr Yablokoff? Are you going to sue Dvořák?

‘Nature Boy’ – Recordings

‘Nature Boy’ clearly strikes a resonant chord. Following Nat Cole’s hit, it immediately became a fallback vehicle for unbridled emotion in the Great American Songbook.

Here’s Nat Cole’s hit version of the song, but the orchestra gets a bit carried away, and I’d recommend this live version from 1948.

Some of the notable early treatments of the song from the 1950s are those by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (in a rare dud) and Miles Davis.

The Real Group, 2013

But the song has proven to be immensely popular in a wide variety of settings, sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so. Interesting versions that I recommend skipping are those by David Bowie (bombastic), James Brown (unfortunately I could only find an audio version), Grace Slick (in her pre-Airplane incarnation, The Great Society), and Lisa Ekdahl (no Yiddish pathos there). The great jazz singer Mark Murphy starts out great but inexplicably chooses to take the song to Trinidad (no Yiddish pathos there, either).

Two excellent vocal groups, Singers Unlimited (1975) and Pentatonix (2012), show by contrast just how fine an accomplishment is that of The Real Group.

A few versions that are worth checking out for their own distinctive merits are that by Nataly Dawn, a very talented young indie artist; and Radka Toneff, who’s always fine, but who doesn’t squeeze the song the way The Real Group’s Emma does. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise I discovered is Lizz Wright, a singer I’ve long admired, in a drum duet. I don’t know how much it has to do with the essence of the song, but it’s one fine, intense piece of music.

Two singers get special mention. Surprisingly, Cher. She sang it in a 1998 TV tribute to her late husband Sonny Bono, calling her grief “something I never plan to get over.” She’s clearly singing from the heart of her heart, and ‘Nature Boy’ is clearly a chillingly apt tribute to him.

And, unsurprisingly, the great Kurt Elling. ‘Nature Boy’ is a signature song of his. He goes through the song once in a traditional take, then flies off into spheres of unparalleled scatting virtuosity, egged onwards and upwards by pianist Laurence Hobgood, an utter tour de force. Here’s his studio version, and you can find many fine live versions here.

And just in case you’d like to join the list, here’s a karaoke version. Send in your recordings to SoTW, we’ll be glad to post them.

For my money, with all the credit to all the fine artists who’ve recorded the song over the years, I’m going to stick with The Real Group. This is what our contemporary a cappella can be: just a little perfect.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

033: Radka Toneff, ‘The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress’ (Jimmy Webb)
063: Pust, ‘En Reell Halling’
147: Frank Sinatra, ‘It Was a Very Good Year’


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071: Lyy, ‘Giftavisan’

Posted by jeff on Oct 16, 2010 in Nordic, Other, Song Of the week

Väsen, Ranarim, Garmarna.
Gjallarhorn, Hedningarna, Hoven Droven, Lyy?

Put on your fleece parkas, folks. This week we’re going to take a little jaunt up to the lands of the North, to make the acquaintance of some very hot music from a very cold place, Nordic Roots music, or Scandinavian neo-folk. Ice also burns.

I made a musical visit to Sweden a couple of years ago. I felt like a child in a candy shop. My wife in a teddy bear museum. A teenage boy in the Playboy mansion. Paul Simon at Graceland. The streets are clean, the people are warm and generous, the women are blond and tall, and the music is as pure as glacial water in a fjord.

I’ll be the first to admit that I romanticize Scandinavia, but I’m not the only one. My cab driver was an Iraqi Catholic engineer who fled Sadaam Husein (who was as fond of Catholics as he was of Jews) in 1990 with his family for Brazil, where he lived for eight years, followed by eight years in Stockholm. “I was very happy to leave Iraq,” he said, in typical Iraqi Catholic understatement. “But there were a lot of problems in Brazil.” “Well,” I said, “There are problems everywhere. Aren’t there problems in Sweden?” He mulled over that for a minute. Finally, thoughtfully, he answered—”No.”

Neo-folk is an oxymoron that’s been around for a while. The Weavers saw themselves as drawing directly from ethnic, roots music. But I doubt they ever picked any cotton. Even if he liked to picture himself as hobo, a man of the land, in retrospect Woody Guthrie was an original, a creative artist. Joan Baez was never a Welsh farmgirl whose husband went off to sea, and Peter Paul & Mary were more at home in Greenwich Village than in Hokie, West Virginia.


In the formative years of the late 1960s and the early 1970s, an interesting difference developed on either side of the Atlantic. Numerous artists whose roots were in roots became the founding fathers of rock—Dylan of course, but also The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Grateful Dead and especially Jefferson Airplane. Where was there to come from, after all? Either The Gaslight Café or The Dick Clark Show. Those were the only scenes.

In England, there was a much more vibrant folk scene. Artists such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourne (later together in Pentangle), Davey Graham, John Fahey and John Thompson (later with Fairport Convention) worked in rock, in blues, in jazz, but never strayed too far from their traditional roots, especially Celtic folk music (Scotland, Ireland, Wales). There are some very nice collections of this music, especially “New Electric Muse – The Story Of Folk Into Rock”. The song that best expresses for me the link from Celtic folk music through rock, and the ground prepared for later forages into world/neo-trad music, including that from Scandinavia, is Fairport Convention’s very fine ‘Tam Lin’.

One band that clearly comes from that tradition is Shooglenifty, a band from Edinburgh which combines traditional Scottish music with rock, pop, jazz, and urban dance music to create a “hypno-folkadelic/ambient/traditional sound”. Folkadelic, huh? Wish I had coined that word. Here’s a really neat taste of their music.


The Swedish and neighboring scenes were influenced by this British and Celtic neo-trad music. From what I can garner–and I’m certainly no expert in this area– it began to flower in the 1980s and really took shape in the 1990s when it was impacted by World Music, which often incorporates dance rhythms into non-pop, indigenous materials.

In any case, for twenty years now, The Land of The Midnight Sun has been awash with young, hip, cutting-edge musicians steeping themselves in their very broad musical traditions. It’s hard for us foreigners to grasp the excitement, the zest, the drive, and the diversity of the music going on there. It often features traditional instruments, such as the nyckelharpa, kantele and hardanger fiddle. The lyrics and music often draw on traditional sources, either imported into a thoroughly young and vibrant setting, or melded together with a myriad of influences. These bands aren’t purists. They’re making great music, derived first and foremost from their own folk roots, but enthusiastically stealing from everything they can lay their hands on.


In SoTW 063, I described the Norwegian a cappella group Pust’s mind-boggling take on two traditional dance forms.

One traditional style of singing that blows my mind is kulning (from Wikipedia):  a domestic Scandinavian music form, often used to call livestock down from high mountain pastures where they have been grazing during the day. The song form is often used by women, as they were the ones tending the herds and flocks in the high mountain pastures…perhaps a pre-historic way to tame wild animals in herds. The song has a loud, high-pitched call using head tones, so that it can be heard or be used to communicate over long distances. It has a fascinating and haunting tone, employing half-tones and quarter-tones (“blue tones”) often conveying a feeling of sadness. When a call is made in a valley, it rings and echoes against the mountains. The animals, a number of whom wear bells tuned so that the livestock’s location can be heard, begin to respond to the call, answering back and the sound of the bells indicates that they are moving down the mountain towards their home farm.


Or, as it was so charmingly explained to me: in olden days, this is how the farm women would call in the cows while their Viking husbands were out raping, pillaging and plundering. Here’s a great example.

Anyway, there are bunches and bunches of bands making this Nordic Roots music of a hundred different styles in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland. Jeff, are you really promulgating Greenlandish music? NorthSide, a small Minneapolis company has done a great job of bringing this music to North America. They’ve compiled several collections of Nordic Roots music that I enjoy greatly.

Here are a few choice examples of music from Scandinavian bands I’ve come upon:

Ranarim:   ‘Maj Vare Valkommen‘, ‘Höga Berg

Garmarna:  ‘Gamen’,  ‘Euchari‘ (based on a melody by a very spiffy lady, 12th century abbest, mystic, composer, and eventually saint, Hildegard Von Bingen)

Hedningarna:  ‘Metsän Tyttö‘, ‘Tuuli‘ (a spell to raise a powerful storm, calling on the god Ukko and goddess Akka.)

Gjallarhorn:  ‘Suvetar‘,  ‘ I riden sa‘ (a less purist group, I’m told, from the Swedish-speaking part of Finland)

Hoven Droven: ‘Kottpolska’, ‘Headbanger‘ (for the hardcore grunge-trad polka fans out there)

Lyy singer Emma Björling

And our Song of The Week is from a young band, one of my favorites, called Lyy. They’re a Swedish quintet: Anna Lindblad (fiddle), David Eriksson (nyckelharpa), Petrus Johansson (guitar), Martin Norberg (percussion), and the very lovely lead singer, Emma Björling. Here are three video clips:

Lyckan‘ (Happiness), an original song in a traditional spirit (“I thought I had to be successful and rich to be loved, but now I understand that someone likes me for who I am, and I’m grateful for everything I’ve got.”)

Rifs, Rifs, Rafs‘ (Traditional) “All the men in the village want to marry me, but they are all fools. My advice to all the girls is to avoid all the household work that comes with having a husband and children.”

And my favorite, and our Song of The Week:

Giftasvisan‘ ((“Why should one get married? If you take a rich man, you become greedy; if you take a poor man you go hungry; if you take an old man, you get wear; and if you take a young man, you get pregnant!”).

As I say, I’m no expert on this music, and I don’t feel like I have a real firm grasp of its scope and shape and character. But I do know that I enjoy it very much. I find it consistently charming, invigorating, cheering and fun. So click on some of them links, rosin up the bow, and let’s take a little trip up North.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

063: Pust, ‘En Reell Halling’

059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’

033: Radka Toneff, ‘The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress’ (Jimmy Webb)

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059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’

Posted by jeff on Jul 28, 2010 in A Cappella, Jazz, Nordic, Song Of the week, Vocalists

Joy Spring, Walking Down the Street, There Will Never Be Another You

Ok, I confess. I am a member of a cult.

A proud, card-carrying, dues-paying proselyte, full of missionary zeal, collaring unsuspecting wedding guests, subjecting them to my fanatic preaching of The Word. Or, in this case, The Music.

A cappella (unaccompanied vocal) jazz has been pretty much the fulcrum of my thoughts for the past three or four years. Now, that may sound pretty silly to you. That’s because a cappella jazz most commonly connotes rosy-cheeked college kids tooting away at geeky renditions of hackneyed pop hits. But that’s because our musical vocabulary is too often narrowly American. With all due credit to the good old Stars and Stripes, there are other scenes out there, and this is one genre where the action is elsewhere. And I’ve had the good fortune to be exposed to the vocal jazz scene in Scandinavia, and the myriad of wonderful groups making amazing music there.

Read more…

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