Bjarv, Bjarv (SK records, 2002)

Bjarv is a Swedish acoustic music band. Michael Grafson plays guitar and is from Angermanland, Sweden; Fiddler Olaf Gothlin is from Varmland, Sweden; Ben Lagerberg-Teitelbaum is from Evergreen, Colorado and plays nyckelharpa. All fairly young (Lagerberg- Teitelbaum is youngest at 19), their album is a smorgasbord of youthfully exuberant songs and tunes.  All but one of the tracks are traditional Swedish, and most are from Varmland.

The story goes that the band members met while studying at the Eric Sahlstrom Institute (hence the multi-heritage line-up). Both the Swedes had studied other styles, including classical and jazz, and Lagerbaum-Teitelbaum has played bluegrass. Their style is fairly traditional, but incorporates progressive influences. The boys sing in a straightforward happy way, often in chorus, and (mercifully) embrace the rowdy spirit of folk 'n' rock, rather than the more graceful, artful genres.

The players are skillful. Often the fiddle and nyckelharpa sing the melody, while the guitar provides rhythm chords and (sometimes) interweaves individual notes. While the vocals provide diversity, listeners with short attention spans might wish that the arrangements were a little more distinctive, since many of the tunes are polskas. Maybe the addition of brass would be an effective way of changing a few of these tracks into pol-SKAs!

The renegade track is a jig by Grafstrom. One might say "what's this doing here?" but it's interesting to ponder that there's a little Celtic twist in all of the tracks. On the other hand, some of the strings in "O'Grafstrom's Jig" seem to have Swedish sympathies. The perky (and funky) "Halling From Varmland" is quite emphatic, yet elegant in its own way, and is paired with a song called "Martin from Gotland," sung in the rowdy chorus style that I mentioned.

The slow tune "Giftavisan," from Angermanland, is also sung and sounds Danish to me. "Hagfors Bruk" is a double fiddle polska full of drones. "Renstrom" is a slow song about a murdered fiddler, with a modern, again, almost Celtic sound. The tune is similar to Mick Softley's "Gold Watch Blues".

"Polska fran Eksharad" is furtive and minor, and my favorite of the tunes.   "Polska fran Glava," from Mats Berglund is rougher and more jazzy; while  "Polska fra Halsingland" could be chamber music.

Bjarv contains 13 tracks, (of which seven are polskas) and is fun for dancing or listening!

 [Judith Gennett]

The web site for Bjarv is here.