Aly Bain & Ale Möller, Beyond the Stacks
(Whirlie Records [UK] and Northside [USA], 2007)
One of the finest concerts my wife and I ever saw was Aly Bain and Ale Möller at the Center for Cultural Exchange, Portland, Maine, several years back. In our review, we noted that 'The Center for Cultural Exchange is a small, intimate venue located on a busy intersection in downtown Portland. When we arrived just after 7:00 for a 7:30 show, the house was already nearly full. Most of the members of the audience were older folks, which was also true when we saw Ale Möller as part of Frifot a few years ago. (That audience was mostly of Swedish ancestry, but this was a more general audience.) We didn't see too many people from the dance crowd that comes to many other CCE concerts -- but then Aly and Ale don't exactly play dance tunes. (Neither does Frifot.) They had no opening act, and arrived on stage right on time, a rare pleasure at a venue which more often than not runs late at getting a concert going!'
Like the music of Frifot, of which Ale is a member, I think of this sort of Nordic music as being intimate, more personal in nature than the music made by Nordic groups such as Garmarna and Gjallarhorn, which are FHL (faster harder louder) in nature. That Möller tells witty tales during their concerts adds to the feeling that you're sitting in their Great Hall with a blazing fire roaring on a cold winter's night, a wee dram in hand, and a handful of good folk hearing them perform.
Simply put, they're brilliant. The intertwining of the Shetland sound of fiddler Aly Bain meets the varied instruments (mandola, harmonica, jews harp) of Swede Möller in a way which few duos I've ever heard match. The only group that sounds close to this duo is -- not at all to my surprise -- Frifot. This isn't their first recording together. That was in 1999, Fully Rigged, of which Jack Merry said:
Fully Rigged makes no pretension of being a 'live' album, but rather a carefully crafted affair that makes the best use of recording technology. It's truly nice to see an album that's not just another 'Nordic thrash folk' album where the volume of noise disguises the lack of musical talent. (There's a lot of good Nordic music out there, i.e., Frifot and Garmarna come to mind, but some of it's quite awful!) The key here is that Aly Bain and Ale Möller are playing the music of two traditions, Scottish and Nordic, in a way that respects both traditions. All you need to know is Aly Bain, the Shetland Islands' most revered fiddler and charter member of the Boys of the Lough, is jamming with Ale Möller, Sweden's acclaimed fretted-string master and member of Frifot. There's not a bad cut here, but I'll single out 'Da Day Dawn' which is a Winter Solstice tune, and 'Hallingar fran Dalsland (Hallings from Dalsland) / Da Bonnie Isle O'Whalsay / Da Fashion O'Da Delting Lassies' a set of sprightly tunes -- the last of which celebrates Flash Girls, as being particularly well done!
Beyond the Stacks is, blissfully, remarkably similar to Fully Rigged -- no gimmicks, no frills, just fine music played by two masters of their traditions. (My only complaint is that the running time of 47 minutes is far too short!) Like Bain's better-known collaboration with Phil Cunningham (also on Whirlie), the music is always what you get on this recording, a rarity in this age of overdubbings, re-recordings, and cleaning up any 'imperfections' after the fact. There are lovely waltzes, 'Peerie joel's' and 'Crying' (Gratvalsen), stunning medleys such as 'But Your Hoose An Ben Your Hoose/Da Black And Da Broon', and even a March -- 'King Karl's Marsch'. What's not to like? Let's hope that they don't take nearly a decade again before doing another recording!