Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer, Hambo in the Snow (Azalea City Recordings, 2006)

Ahhh, Nordic traditional music. What better to listen to on a cold, snowy day when a good book beckons and there's no place one has to be? Hambo in the Snow certainly has now made our list of Nordic music for a winter's day. And I must say that Garrison Keillor has good taste in music! Hambo in the Snow is from a trio of Minnesota Nordic musicians that have, according to the liner notes, performed on Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. That this fine recording featuring Washington, D.C.-area musicians Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer, has been nominated in the Best Traditional World Music Album category for the 49th Annual Grammy Awards, which take place in about a month as I write this review in January of 2007, should not surprise us -- it's that good! (It does have tough competition -- also nominated were Music Of Central Asia Vol. 2: Invisible Face Of The Beloved: Classical Music Of The Tajiks And Uzbeks, Hossein Alizadeh & Djivan Gasparyan's Endless Vision, Aashish Khan & Zakir Hussain's Golden Strings Of The Sarod, and Soweto Gospel Choir's Blessed.) Will they win? Who knows? But I'd say being nominated is an honour in and of itself!

Hambo in the Snow is not a Nordic traditional recording 'tall, but a Nordic-American traditional recording firmly grounded, like A Prairie Home Companion, in the culture of Minnesota. So, it's not surprising to sense a slightly mist-eyed vision of the Nordic countries, as noted in this bit on the trio's Web site: 'On the other side of the year, the Land of the Midnight Sun is a land of long, dark winter. But winter in Scandinavia is also a time of light: the moon's reflection on snow, the levande ljus (living light) of candles and torches, and the inward light that comes with honoring beloved traditions. Here are some of the tunes that have become our favorites over the years of performing together. Most of these tunes come from the ancient bygdedans (village dance) tradition.' Like Lake Woebegone on A Prairie Home Companion, Hambo in the Snow harkens back to an earlier, less complex age when bundling was indeed an innocent activity for couples to do on a cold winter's night. And Freya knows how badly our present society could use a lot more innocence!

(A note about the packaging -- both the liner notes and the graphic design are superb. And the cover art of musicians and dancers frolicking in the snow is quite lovely as well. It would've been nice to know who the artist was!)

Blissfully, this is a simple undertaking with no percussion, making for a tastefully done recording of songs and tunes. (I loved seeing Våsen sans percussion a few years back for the same reason. Me aging ears just don't like it that loud.) There's just Andrea Hoag on fiddle and vocals, Loretta Kelley on fiddle, hardingfele and vocals, and Charlie Pilzer on bass, plus one- and two-row accordions. Charlie's been a member for decades now of Spælimenninir, a Scandinavian folk band based in the Faroe Islands. (If you don't like accordions, be advised they are used sparingly. And quite well too.) No overdubbing, no fancy recording tricks -- just far-better-than-simply-good music. Just go listen to this excerpt from 'Hambo in the Snow' for a few moments -- lovely, isn't it? This Hoag composition is both upbeat and slightly melancholy -- fitting in that it's written in the memory of someone now passed on. And take a listen to 'Bjølleslåtten/Fanitullen', tunes I know from the Trio Hardanger debut recording of a few years back.

Every song, every tune holds up to repeated listenings. I'd single out what I thought were the best bits here but everything's good. Indeed I must now find a recording of their earlier affair, Hambo in the Barn, to see if it's as great as this recording is. I 'ave little doubt it is!

[Jack Merry]