Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Dwight Lamb, Jensen and Bugge: Live in Denmark 2013. Part Two.

Dwight Lamb was born in Moorhead, Iowa in 1934.  Folks in the upper Midwest mostly know of Dwight for his complete mastery of Missouri style fiddling.  He learned directly from some of the greats including "Fiddling" Bob Walters.  A little less known are the accordion tunes he learned from his Danish grandfather.  Dwight plays a one row, diatonic accordion, just like his grandfather did.

originally from

There has been renewed interest since Danish duo, Mette Jensen and Kristian Bugge found out about him several years ago.  They learned a lot of his tunes and have tours together in Europe and the USA.  In the liner notes they talk about how they have had many fun experiences together since Part 1 was made in 2010.

First thing I can say after listening is: trombones! I saw on YouTube that they played with a trombone player in Denmark and, man, does it sound cool on the recording.  Dwight's accordion music always has a joyous quality, but this disk is just infectious joy.  There is a four part Oh Susanna that is triumphant!

Even Dwight's tracks that I know well from his other disks really come alive here.  Track #16 is a tune done from an earlier album.  In true Scandinavian-American fashion it is just called Two Quadrilles.  I loved the tune on a previous disk, but here it just opens up and comes alive.  Like many of the repeats from Dwight's repertoire, it comes off with new life in such careful hands.

Go to to order.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A visitor from Denmark comes to document music in the Upper Midwest

My new buddy, Gunhild, came to Minnesota from this year to record a documentary that looks at how Scandinavian influenced music is progressing in America.  What she she came up with has some magical moments in it.  She agreed to talk with us about it:

Why Minnesota?  Why come all the way across the world to listen to Scandinavian inspired music so far removed?

Well. Why Minnesota? I chose Minnesota because of the large concentration of Scandinavian immigrants in the Upper Midwest in the end of the 19th century. I figured if I were to find any Scandinavian musical influence left alive in the younger generations, Minnesota would be a good place to start.

So basically I wanted (or I should say want, because it is a hopefully never ending process) to show, mainly Danish musicians, a glimpse of their musical traditional history.  Folk music in Denmark is not nearly as popular as in Norway and Sweden and I think that’s a shame because there are so many fascinating stories connected to it. Stories and songs that I am sure would work as a great inspiration if only people knew it existed or what and where to look for it.

Of course this project has never been limited to reach only Danish musicians. But it was the knowledge of the great material and inspiration for songwriting that triggered me to do this.

It soon became inevitable to cover Sweden and Norway in my project because it wouldn’t make any sense to exclude their musical traditions when we as nations have a long shared history and continued to settle down in the same regions in the Midwest. 

Explain a couple of your most profound moments of your journey?

I heard Paul Dahlin mention a fella up north who played the cow horn. The lonesome sound of the cow horn is one of the most beautiful sounds I know. So I drove up to the elder home on the countryside where he and his wife lived. It was one of these ridiculously beautiful cold days this winter where the snow was heavy and everything up there was so picturesque. Anyway when his wife opened the door to their apartment it was just like stepping into a Swedish home except for the heavy American flag flapping outside the window.
It turned out not only did he play the cow horn but also the neverlur. They both told me a lot of wonderful and very touching stories from a long life of being second-generation immigrants in the states. That was a very profound moment on my trip.
There were several of those though. Andrea Een played harding fiddle for me in her home in Northfield. It was so beautiful. That sound of the harding fiddle pierced though something in me of real Norwegian musical identity that I had never felt before.
I could go on…

Did you go back to Denmark thinking differently about the music or the world?   

I was once again relived to confirm that my university studies didn’t make any difference.  It’s the meeting with people and their stories that inspire me. 

And once again I felt that I am merely a medium for storytelling not a specialist.

Education is interaction.

You have this short documentary done and it stands on it’s own.  Future plans or dreams for you in this area?

I really want to keep on exploring this interaction of American/Scandinavian folk music today.  Many Scandinavian bands are inspired by American folk music but my question is still: Are there any American musicians who are inspired by Scandinavian folk music and where are they?  I want to do another documentary this time either from Wisconsin, Iowa or Washington State.   As a lot of other fun things in this world it depends on funding.

Of course I would like to exchange this music to a live audience in both Denmark and the Midwest. Right now I am working with a Danish duo, Phil Shivers, who are influenced by both their Scandinavian and American musical upbringing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review and Interview: Tjarnblom- Nicollet Island Waltz

I predict nyckelharpas will soon be played on every block in Minnesota.  Until that time, we have this beautiful album to listen to.  Soon everyone will be familiar with the clicking of this cacophonous instrument again (think big fiddle with lots of strings being pressed down by wooden keys).  

One of my favorite things about the nyckelharpa is listening to the keys click away in the background.  To hear this beautiful instrument envelop a room you have to listen to its parts working arrhythmically. Tjärnblom album Nicollet Island Waltz gives everyone a chance to experience this.

This Minneapolis foursome consists of two nyckelharpas, a mandolin and a pump organ.  They handle this material with a cloud-like lightness.  I remember when they were recording a few tunes for the first MN Fiddle Tunes Project CD- as soon as they started playing I was hooked with their infectious style.

This is a diverse sounding disc of Swedish, Finnish and Minnesota tunes both old and newly composed.  It is a joy to listen to intently or to have playing in the background as you do the dishes and go about your household business.

I had some questions for Tjärnblom and spoke with members of the band: Cheryl Pashcke and Mary Crimi, nyckelkarpa; Val Eng, harmonium; and Joe Alfano, mandolin.

You have a lot of different kinds of material on the new CD. How do you go about choosing repertoire and arrangements?
We each bring tunes to the group, then select pieces considering type of tune, key, origin and context, and try out arrangement ideas. Keeping our “sound” -- instrument mix -- is important as well as staying with our areas of focus – dance and listening tunes of Swedish, Finnish and Minnesota origin. 
Arrangements evolve as we try out ideas to determine who has the lead/melody, when/if the melody moves to other instruments, how sparse or dense the accompaniment should be, where the rhythm “sits”, etc. We play within the tradition but also play with the tradition, going back to sources, recording and listening to ourselves, reevaluating, trying again.
The CD recording process -- we had three sessions over 17 months -- gave us the opportunity to listen to ourselves, really hear what was going on and make changes individually and as a group. 

What are the major influences that drive the band?
We are all practicing musicians. We build on our varied backgrounds, particularly Nordic music and dance, and enjoy the creative process. Sharing the music and its context is important to us. We have been well received by audiences and look forward to more performance opportunities made possible by having a recording to share.
We have had a lot of happy accidents that have come our way, such as finding the Tjärnblom tune, visits from some Nordic musicians, involvement in the MN Fiddle Tunes Project, and working with Kevin Bowe and IPR. 
Being a band that mostly plays music from over the pond - Where do you see yourselves on the spectrum of Upper Midwest old-time music? 
Most of our repertoire is dance music … we respect, want to honor and help preserve the tunes, stories and sources; our instrumentation influences our “take” on it. We love the Midwest tunes we have in our repertoire and are active in seeking additional local tunes -- the tunes resonate with us and with our audiences. Our music and stories all contain a certain regional accent since we all have fairly deep roots in this part of the country.
Nyckelharpa is a mostly invisible instrument in America.  Does it have a future here and can it stay relevant in modern times?
Yes, nyckelharpa is here to stay! It is appealing to performers and audiences because of its beautiful sound, unique appearance and consequent playing technique, and interesting history. It does suit a variety of styles and genres of music, as evidenced by growth in use internationally. 
Now that there are two makers here in the Midwest, it is easier for new players to obtain instruments. Membership in Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag (TCNL) has increased this past year, in part due to increased visibility of nyckelharpa locally in performance and in an exhibit at the American Swedish Institute. TCNL is an important foundational group and as a non-profit with an education mission, is a reminder that historically the music has a purpose - dance, gift giving, special events.
Our other instruments - mandolin and harmonium – also generate audience interest.
What is coming up for the band and how has the CD been received?
Upcoming performance events include: 
Finn Fest 2014, August 8 & 9; a return performance at Bryant Lake Bowl, Sunday Sept. 14 at 7:00 p.m. (our CD release was a sold out event) -- look on our Facebook page for details.  
We also play for private events and are working on new selections and considering new projects.

The CD has been received very well; we have gotten very positive feedback from fellow musicians, dancers, and new listeners.

Order CD here.