Apr 8 2014
Aside from excellent musicianship, the eminent quality of the music of folk guitarists Leo Kottke and John Fahey that draws in so many fans is the storytelling nature of their music. Whether accompanied by a band or, even better, in a solo setting, Kottke and Fahey were able to create entire worlds in their music, populate them with a variety of characters, and then lay down a little bit of plot into the foundation of a tune. Live, it’s common for Kottke to tell anecdotes from his own life, and show how they inspired the next song to be performed… additional exposition adding more texture, more color to the story of the song. And the music had so much to say, even in its simplest forms.
Stein Urheim has that quality. Building on the territory covered on his excellent 2012 release Kosmolodi, his new recording, the self-titled Stein Urheim, creates entire universes from scratch, then presents a microcosm of each one song at a time. A kaleidoscopic array of influences of regional folk musics, of blues, of jazz, of classical, of avant-garde, of whatever unique expressions reside in his head, Urheim presents them all with the heart of the storyteller.
Your album personnel: Stein Urheim (guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths and effects) and Jørgen Træen (modular synth and effects).
These are stories told patiently and thick with details, but at its heart is some universal truth, untranslatable, but represented by its melody. Second track “After the Festival” reveals a diverse parade of expressions so typical of this inventive recording, and at the very end of the tune, Urheim reveals the simple, yet poignant melody that had existed all along, hidden until the last moment, and illuminating the meaning of it all… like watching a reverse time lapse of the life of a magnificent flower, and at its conclusion, witnessing the tiny seed that led up to the majestic bloom.
Urheim uses a vast array of instruments for his purposes, with Jørgen Træen adding some synths and effects. The looping effects on album opener “Kosmoloda” provides the ethereal magic reminiscent of Bill Frisell solo folk-jazz recordings like Ghost Town and The Willies… an alien warmth that is both comforting and spooky.
The harmonica on “Beiing Blues” spreads all kinds of sunlight over the languorous tune, and the blues of “Great Distances” adds an appealing grey-skies quality to the affair, whereas “Watch the View” rustles up tension between those opposing forces… an unsettling ambiance from knowing that the world can turn on a dime with a downpour of rain or blanket of sunlight.
Perhaps most compelling about this album is that the presentation of this myriad of sounds and influences is done with a casual ease, a lazy Sunday atmosphere that is supremely compelling… intricacies and complexities delivered with an easy grace.
Just a beautiful album, where there is no end to the details and their magic never fades.
Released on Hubro Music.
Music from the Bergen, Norway scene.