The "bad boys of Swedish folk / rock" are back with their second American release -- a resounding reminder of their unique blend of hard rock and folk roots. Perhaps a smidgen less frenetic than their previous Northside release, Groove, More Happy Moments.... is every single second vital and energetic music. From their blistering opening salvo, "Brekken," the band gives no quarter and takes no prisoners.
This time around, the band has a new member: Janne Stromstedt, on Hammond organ. Stromstedt was definitely no stranger to the band, having played with fiddler Kjell-Erik Eriksson in his side project, Triakel. And for the first time, there are vocals, stunningly provided by Ulrika Boden and Sofia Sanden from Rosenberg 7.
The twelve regular tracks on the CD all have traditional roots, beginning their lives as pols, polskas, marches or waltzes before receiving a bit of Hoven Droven's modern magic. Take, for example, "Blinn Ulof / Blind Ulof," a traditional waltz ... but no waltz you've ever heard before. Deeply thrumming bass and rock solid drumming underpin the fiddle and organ, and render this dance tune into something wonderfully edgy.
Lest unsuspecting listeners find the music overpowering, there are the three songs featuring the female vocalists. "Ottje Pelle" is billed as a children's song, but it's ... rather adult in nature. "Lyckklig den som ogifter vore / Happy is he who remains unmarried" tells the tale of a henpecked husband, and "Herr Hillebran" is a disturbing story of a man who deals with rejection rather poorly. All three are beautifully sung, and a reminder of Hoven Droven's folk beginnings.
Another brief breather can be found in "Morkertia / The Dark Part of the Year," a slow march written by the band's saxophonist, Jens Comen, which reflects on the homesickness brought about by extensive touring. Also of note is "Myrslattern," a song they (jokingly, I believe) say hails from "the wild west of Sweden." And what a bizarre, but wonderful, mix of folk, country and hard rock it is!
Not content to just give listeners a mere twelve tracks, Hoven Droven and Northside have included an interactive portion to the CD. There are bios of the band members, a brief history of the band (wherein we learn that the band formed in a Swedish high school in 1989), a brief "home movie" from a recent recording session, and five MP3 songs. Two of these, "Moss och manniskor" and "Jog for till stan...." were recorded with well-known Swedish singer/songwriter Stefan Sundstrom. Both were included on the original release of More Happy Moments. Of the two, the former is more distinctive, Sundstrom's fierce growl a perfect complement to the band's hard-driving music.
The remaining three MP3s are from the band's first demo cassette, from eight years ago. While there is a hint of the power to come, the band's folksiness shines through. There are also links to Northside and the Hoven Droven Web site.
Still powerful, still as talented as ever, but with even more depth -- thanks to their newest member, and their little bit of experimentation -- Hoven Droven is a unique, versatile band, and their latest release is quite satisfying.