WEST OF EDEN – Look To The West (West of Music WOM CD9)

Look To The WestI don’t know which impresses me more, the Swedish sextet’s music or the fact they inhabit their chosen genres so authentically you’d believe they were native born. Led vocally by Martin and Jenny Schaub and featuring accordion, fiddle and guitars, their 2012 Safe Crossing album was a collection of salty shanties and sea faring tales which might easily have persuaded the uninformed that they came from some coastal fishing port in Scotland. The follow-up, Songs From Twisting River was entrenched in the heart of Yorkshire folk (even featuring Kate Rusby), but, for their ninth album, they’ve musically relocated to Ireland, quite possibly Donegal, and drawn on the long tradition of songs about Irish emigration to provide a Celtic template for an ambitious project addressing the emigrants who left Sweden for America at the end of the 19th century, almost a third from the band’s home town of Gothenburg. Not only is this little known outside of Sweden, but there’s been very few songs written about it at home either.

America’s not actually the destination of the opening farewell number, but rather the slightly closer shores of Yorkshire with Jenny taking a lovely Irish-accented lead on the liltingly sung ‘Going To Hull’ gently underscored by acoustic guitar and yearning accordion. Mölnlycke, a small Gothenburg town famous for the Poppel brewery referenced in the song, is the setting for the snare backed ‘Rainy Town’ which, sung by Martin, offers the other side of the picture as a local barfly insists he’d never leave.

The longing of those finding themselves far away is at the heart of the gently swaying ‘Oh, I Miss My Home’, Jenny’s pure voice soaring as the memories tumble through, while the uptempo rockier ‘Wilson Line’, a song titled for the British shipping company that transported many of the emigrants, which recounts the misadventures of one poor lad who not only finds himself relieved of his money by a duplicitous beauty but stuck with a fake ticket.

Incorporating an opening snatch of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ as the passengers gather on the sea for the leaving, the brass glowing ‘Sweet Old Country’ boasts one of album’s finest choruses before the arrival of the first of the two instrumentals, a pairing of the Irish traditional ‘Paddy Fahey’s’ with ‘Sweel’, a fiddle jig from band member Lars Broman. From here it’s on to moody swayer, ‘The List’, rumbling electric guitar and fiddle providing the spine as Martin checks off everything needed for the voyage to the promised land, ending with a reminder not to forget the words of goodbye.

It’s back to Jenny’s softer tones for another parting song, ‘The Crying Stairs’, as lovers take their leave, the hope of a better life shadowed by a reminder of those who have gone before, “strived for a good life and failed.” The hopes and dreams of fortune beyond the “sickness and despair” of home carry the infectious uptempo shuffling title track duet which, in turn, leads to the traditional sprightly folksiness of ‘Please Mister Agent’, a playful number based on an actual letter to the White Star Company by a young girl keen to leave the country to escape an abusive marriage.

The second instrumental, the Celtic-hued melancholic guitar and accordion ‘Tekla’s Tune’, heralds the last two tracks, bassist Martin Holmlund co-writing with the Schaub’s on ‘The Ticketless Man’, the bittersweet story of Johan Andersson who, in gaining a wife and family to support, had to give up his dreams of building a new life in America. The album ends on the suitably titled ‘The Final Cut’, a lovely, fiddle kissed, starry skies lullaby sung by Jenny bidding farewell to Sweden and sailing West of Eden, the lights of home fading in the distance as, the track swelling to a near orchestral finale, she vows “not a single night will pass when I won’t dream of you”. When it comes to the 2017 Radio 2 Folk Awards nominations for Best Album, it would be good to see the horizons widened to accord this lot the fulsome recognition they deserve.

Mike Davies

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‘Look To The West’ – official video: