DARLING WEST – While I Was Asleep (JANSEN 097CD)

While I Was AsleepDarling West released their third album, While I Was Asleep, in February. The band are from Norway and have been played on that country’s mainstream radio channels and at its biggest festivals. Their previous album won a ‘Norwegian Grammy’ (a Spellemann Award). While I Was Asleep (sung in English) sits fairly squarely at the crossroads between country music and delicate pop – splendid gentle melodies with a country-ish band arrangement.

The album opens with the title song, a reflection on death after life and what that sense of mortality means for us, lively drums and harmonica capturing the attention. It’s also the first chance to hear Mari Kreken’s voice, gentle enough to make you relax to its melody, strong enough to keep you listening. ‘Rolling On’ has some lovely picking to keep you captured and moves into the more Americana feel of ‘Loneliness’ and its neat refrain “If this is what heartbreak feel like/I’ve never been broken before”.

‘Better Than Gold’ continues the album’s Americana feel. ‘Always Around’ (“I am the woman who’s always around…..Unlike the good old times, tonight I’ll drink slow”) has a bewitching vocal as the singer reflects on how a relationship has developed, her thinking sparked by a song on the jukebox from the relationship’s early days. ‘Traveller’ is another lovely vocal and finger-picked song, Kreken’s vocal soaring against guitars and strings on a song she describes as “the story of a restless soul, who made some choices in the past and are still haunted by them. Most of us entertain that thought sometimes, ‘What would have happened if…?’ But for some it turns out to be a moment that they will always carry with them” – what if she’d accepted the second dance and not become a traveller? – “The road back to you/Is taking me a lifetime”. The link below takes you to a lovely acoustic version of the song. You only have to watch this song in the traditional echo chamber of a stairwell to imagine how good they’d be in a concert venue.

‘Traveller’ is followed by ‘Ballad Of An Outlaw’. The title alone tells you it’s another Americana flavoured song (though based on the tale of Norwegian outlaw) and again there is a theme of a life unsettled contrasted with what might have been “Will they all weep when they hear I am dead/Or will they salute a killer instead/I know I’ll rest when they lower me down”. The album closes with the driving ‘Don’t I Know You’ and the banjo-inflected ‘How I Wish’.

Darling West have spread their reach from their home country having recently played in Germany and at festivals such as South by South-West in Texas and Americanafest in Nashville. As the video shows, the songs are melodic and easy to listen to, gentle vocals set, predominantly, against finger-picked guitar and banjo. They are currently on tour in Germany and Norway.

Mike Wistow

‘While I Was Asleep’ – official: