Maria Kalaniemi/Eero Grundström Svalan
Review by Tyran Grillo
The title of Svalan (Swedish for “swallow”) accurately describes this album's mood before a single note of it graces your ears. As the creation of Maria Kalaniemi (accordion and vocals) and Eero Grundström (harmonium), it thrums with songs of the Northern Karelian forests that inspired it. Recorded in Kalaniemi's childhood home, its program is a mélange of Finnish-Swedish ballads, songs of the sea, and original compositions.
"Kom alla mina bröder"
The traditional tunes evoke nature and life within it. “Kom alla mina bröder” (Come all my brothers) is an ideal place to start. With an inspiring sense of community, it invites listeners on a journey far away from the bane of current political unrest. Whether through bellows or throat, Kalaniemi's exhalations are ecstatic, while Pekko Käppi (who also plays bowed lyre on the album) calls out like the voice of the wilderness. Even in the tenderer “Där sitter en fågel” (A bird is sitting there), echoes of that verve linger.
Moving as these songs are, the album shines brightest in its instrumentals, especially through the prism of the duo's original material. One can't help but marvel at the depth and variety of textures an accordion and harmonium create together in theirs hands. In this regard, “Sumu” (Fog) and “Housutango” (Trousers Tango) are sound paintings of the highest order. For the album's title track, Kalaniemi and Grundström are joined by Mikko Kosonen, whose acoustic guitar glimmers with jangly folk atmospheres, and whose electric guitar illuminates “Susi” (Wolf) with a blast of moonlight. Finnish composer Toivo Kärki's “Liljan” (Lily) is another visually minded endeavor, a cinematic sweep over fields of soft colors.
The final track, “Salonkylä,” is a field recording of the forest itself. It is, however, no less musical than anything preceding it. Because the forest is occasionally audible in the background at other points throughout the album, as in Kalaniemi's original “Sångtrast” (Song Thrush) and "Susi" (Wolf), “Salonkylä” is as much a coda as a breath of nature, situating us blissfully outside the reach of pundits whose hands grow heavier with a power that will surely destroy them from within. - Tyran Grillo