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Ilmatar

Värttinä

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Album Review

Following the demise of Wicklow Records in 2000, it looked for a while as if this album would never see the light of day in the U.S. But Northside stepped in, a very apt home as it is a label that specializes in Nordic music, and it's well worth the wait. Stripped-down, lean, and mean, Värttinä have come up with a concept album of sorts, dedicated to the sun goddess of Finnish myth. Their trademark runo songs have largely given way to original compositions, although they're not afraid to delve back into the tradition when necessary, updating it with electronic touches and bits of studio wizardry. Given its subject matter, it's not too surprising that it's an album of magic — even down to the spell incantation on "Aijo," while the keening voices and harmonies of the four singers tear through the air like lovely witches. Musically they stick very much to acoustic instruments (as they have in the past), without creating a backdrop that feels like folk music — long-time fiddler Kari Reiman and the rest of the crew are simply too good for that. The arrangements they create are complex, but with ample space for the voices that are the band's hallmark. Earthy and airy, Värttinä are a perfect mix of the elements. Producer Hughes de Courson coaxes more from them than others have managed in the studio, pushing them out of the comfort zone they appeared to have established, and, in doing so, giving them a path for the future. Their 1998 release, Vihma, had seemed a good step forward after a period of treading water and going pop. In comparison, the energy, melodies, and singing are a quantum leap. Their very best to date.

Biography

Formed: 1983 in Raakkyla, Kaarelia, Finland

Genre: World

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the most internationally successful acts to emerge from the contemporary Finland music scene, Värttinä revitalized the nation's folk traditions with an aggressive and ultra-modern style that eschewed not only the costumes of their ancestors but also the long-accepted cultural notion that women should sing unaccompanied. A product of the folk music department at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy, Värttinä formed in the early '80s, its 21 original members all previously associated with an area youth...
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Ilmatar, Värttinä
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