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"Karuliinan kangaspuut" (full track)

I'm sure many listeners prefer to experience an album in traditional style, starting with the first track and playing each song consecutively. But for those of you who don't mind leaping, get Viena, the new release from Värttinä, and go straight to track 10, “Karuliinan kangaspuut.” This a cappella piece, these three minutes and eighteen seconds, represent everything I love and have always loved about this folk ensemble from Finland. The voices. The harmonies. The ways in which they blend and contrast. The timbres and the textures and the rhythmic drive. Yes indeed, this is it.

Värttinä formed over 30 years ago, and this is their 13th studio record. They've moved all over the folk-roots-world music map, roaming from kanteles and accordions to electro dancematic this-and-that, with various journeys into Broadwayism and Eurovisionesqueness. Much of this was well-crafted, enjoyable music. Sometimes it was spectacular, too often it was not.

"Ukonlammas" (excerpt)

But the voices. Oh my, the voices. Viena puts the voices front and center where they belong. It's less about atmosphere and more about singing. There is wonderful support from kantele and accordion and fiddle and guitar, but the role the instruments play is to direct focus to the singing. This isn't to imply that the accompaniment is bland, or that it could be performed by a bored studio band. These instruments aren't just filling space. These arrangements provide exactly the right accompaniment for the voices. Listen in particular to the accordion on “Ukonlammas” which is brilliant both technically and musically. Yet it neither overpowers nor detracts from the vocals. It is simply the right combination.

"Kokko" (excerpt)

If you haven't heard Värttinä before, don't worry about the back catalog yet, and start with Viena. If you gave up the band in past years, Viena is the record that will make you a fan all over again. And for those of you who stuck around patiently over the years, this is the Värttinä record you've been waiting for. It doesn't matter whether you listen to all twelve tracks straight through in order. Just start. Just listen. Yes indeed, this is it. - Greg Harness

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