The impeccable musical pedigree of the String Sisters is undeniable and their new album Between Wind And Water demonstrates exactly why these formidably accomplished women are so rightly celebrated.
Bringing together Nordic and Celtic, classical and folk, this band of many styles is a veritable melting pot. All the aspects meld together perfectly, the fiddle types and playing styles producing a diverse range of sounds – from bagpipe-like drones to chamber-esque elegance – all in the blink of an eye. Bolstering this sextet of strings is an imaginative, often jazz-infused backline of bass, piano and drums.
‘The Crow’s Visit’ sets toes tapping from the get go, a lively two-tune set underpinned by shuffling drums and a burst of piano boogie. The fiddles here overlaying to build up a dense whirl of sound, sometimes peeling off into little individual rills or adding to the rich harmonic patterns.
‘Trotto’ is a joyful, trotting afterdance (sadly having lost its original dance partner) with a whiff of the middle-East about it and a rootsy, punchy performance. ‘Vinterfolk’ is driven by a sparkly guitar riff that conjures up glistening snow, whilst ‘Late Night In Førde’ bustles briskly along, keen not to miss any of the fun of the festival.
There are darker moods on offer here, too. ‘Return From Helsinki’, ever so faintly reminiscent of Seth Lakeman’s ‘Cape Clear’ in its melancholy air, shows off the Sisters’ brilliantly balanced interplay. The stunning ‘Det Bor I Mina Tankar’ takes off over an ominous piano and distant brittle glassy percussion; a brooding bass lending emotional support to Emma Härdelin’s vocals. Once again, music heeds no language barriers in this traditional Swedish tale of unrequited love and betrayal.
‘The Blooming Conductor’ concludes the album with a whirling trio of tunes of switchbacks and twists, deftly changing pace and style in a beat. Recorded live at the Celtic Colours Festival, the video footage on YouTube is well worth a look (once you’ve finished reading folking.com, of course).
From the moment it hit the CD player, it was clear that Between Wind And Water would be an instant classic. It’s a delight to hear these skilled players constantly breaking out, overlapping and interweaving, alternately harmonising and coming together in glorious unison. It’s an inspiring, invigorating album, revelling in the brilliant exuberance of the performances.
String Sisters produces a sound that is awe-inspiring and captivating in equal measure. Capable of capturing an audience from the first few notes, their shows are a masterclass in the emotional power of instrumental music and traditional song. From heart-stopping songs performed by Emma Härdelin and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh to the energetic intensity of the more upbeat fiddle tunes, Between Wind And Water transfers the energy and emotion of their live performances to a studio recording.
This prestigious international project features tunes and songs written by Catriona Macdonald, Dave Milligan, Annbjørg Lien, Liz Carroll, Liz Knowles, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Tore Bruvoll. Traditional tunes and songs from Sweden, Shetland, Ireland and the United States also feature.
The album was conceived at Mareel in Shetland during ten intense and wonderfully light days in June 2017, and completed on some crisp autumnal days in November 2017 at Castlesound in Edinburgh.
String Sisters blends Nordic and Celtic traditions into a glorious riot of all-encompassing sound. With band members from Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland and the United States, this is an internationally-appealing combo with an incredible pedigree.
The band was founded at Celtic Connections in 2001 by Shetland fiddler Catriona Macdonald. Catriona is currently a Senior Lecturer on the BMus Folk Degree at Newcastle University, a leading fiddle music composer and an enthusiastic proponent of the Shetland fiddle tradition.
On hardanger fiddle we have Annbjørg Lien, one of Norway’s most eminent fiddlers. She has collaborated with musicians from all over the globe and is a key player on the world music stage. This September Annbjørg was awarded the prestigious Anders Jahre Cultural Prize for her outstanding contribution to folk music.
From the United States String Sisters’ Liz Carroll and Liz Knowles both come from the Irish tradition. Liz Carroll is a legendary fiddler who has been junior and senior All-Ireland Fiddle Champion. In 2010 she was the first Irish-American musician to be nominated for a Grammy and in 2011 she was the first US-born composer honoured with the Cumadóir TG4, Ireland’s most significant traditional music prize. Meanwhile Liz Knowles has her own distinctive sound. Combining Irish fiddle with the tonal richness of classical violin, she is in demand globally as a virtuosic live performer and versatile recording artist. Her credits range from fiddler for Riverdance to soloist on the soundtrack for the film Michael Collins.
Also on fiddle we have two musicians who are also accomplished singers. Emma Härdelin from Sweden who comes from a family of nationally-acclaimed musicians and lends her hauntingly beautiful voice to folk-rock band Garmarna, traditional trio Triakel and String Sisters. Joining Emma on two duets on the new album is Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from Ireland. One of the most important carriers of the Donegal fiddle style, Mairéad performs all over the world with her band Altan, and in February this year was honoured with the Gradam Ceoil, one of the most prestigious prizes in Irish music.
The band is completed by Dave Milligan on piano, Tore Bruvoll on guitar, Conrad Molleson on bass and James Mackintosh on drums. Dave and Tore have also composed tunes for the album.
Here is some explanation of the tunes/songs contained on the album.
THE CROW’S VISIT
‘As The Crow Flies’ (Liz Carroll)
‘A Visit’ (Annbjørg Lien)
Liz Carroll: “I originally wrote ‘As The Crow Flies’ for the wonderful group Childsplay. Based in Boston, they’re a group of fiddlers who play instruments made by Bob Childs. Bob gave me the title, and this is the tune that came out.”
Annbjørg: “’A Visit’ was inspired by those great moments when musicians visit each other and jam a tune together. These sessions have no borders and are true inspiration for musical resonance and friendships.”
WIND AND RAIN
‘Wind And Rain’ (Traditional)
‘Parker’s Mill’ (Liz Knowles)
Mairéad: “This song was given to me by the great Jody Stecher. It’s the American version of the famous Child Ballad, ‘Twa Sisters’, a universal story of love, jealousy and murder. It can be found in different traditions all over the world. Emma knows a Swedish version, but this time she sings it with me in English.”
Liz Knowles: “This tune is named for the street on which my family farm sat. In a happy, accidental String Sisters musical moment, Annbjørg thought I meant for this tune to be in 4/4 and it ended up working perfectly in this beautiful and treacherous song about a murderous sister and a fiddle!”
OPEN TO THE ELEMENTS
‘Walking Intro’ (Liz Knowles)
‘Gravel Walks To Grannie’ (Traditional Irish/Scottish)
‘Resistance Reel’ (Dave Milligan)
‘The Glen Road To Carrick’ (Traditional Irish)
Liz Knowles: “Walking was originally composed as a soundtrack for a documentary project about urban renewal, developed through an architectural and design residency in Chicago. This little round seemed to be a great intro to this reel set and very happily works as a counter-melody under the ‘A’ part of Gravel Walks To Grannie.”
Mairéad: “’The Gravel Walks To Grannie’ is a reel named after a road outside the town of Ardara to a remote area called Grannie. This is one of the most popular reels favoured by Donegal fiddlers. ‘The Glen Road To Carrick’ is a reel which celebrates the lonely road from Glencolumbkille to the neighbouring village of Carrick, in South West Donegal.”
Dave: “’Resistance Reel’ was written for a young group from Fèis Rois in Scotland called Ceolraidh to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the 2011 Youth Proms. It was named after a quote from US author and historian Steven Pressfield: ‘Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.’”
‘Hjaltland To Flatland’ (Catriona Macdonald)
‘Dolkaren’ (traditional Norwegian)
‘Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes’ (traditional Shetland)
Catriona : “I originally composed ‘Hjaltland To Flatland’ for a commissioned piece entitled “Norn’ for double string quartet for the 2014 Telemark International Folk Festival. Hjaltland is old norse for Shetland and Flatland in Bø is the birthplace of many of the greatest Telemark Hardanger fiddlers. ‘Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes’ is a maritime tune I learned from archive recordings of the wonderful Shetland fiddler George ‘Geordie’ Sutherland. Most Shetlanders knew George as a native of the island of Bressay, but he was originally from Nesting, and was closely connected to the traditional playing of that area. I remember him taking part in one of my teacher Tom Anderson’s folk festival workshops in the 1980s, when various older fiddlers were invited to demonstrate their local style. He was a great player and a real gentleman.”
Annbjørg: “’Dolkaren’ is a traditional Hardanger Fiddle tune from Setesdal, and my variant is inspired by the great fiddler Gunnar Stubseid. Dolkaren is an old norse word; doll refers to the leather pocket you put the knife in, and has also a sexual reference to a woman’s most intimate part. The tune is therefore supposed to be played so that you can feel each beat in the music.”
DET BOR I MINA TANKAR (Traditional Swedish)
Emma: “I learned this song from the singing of Kristina Holm. I first heard it on an old recording at the Swedish Song Archive. Kristina Holm was from Kall in the county of Jämtland close to where I grew up. The song is a classic tale of unrequited love, and betrayal, as told by the injured party.”
TROTTO (Anon/Liz Knowles)
Liz Knowles: “This tune is an example of an afterdance, the second part of a dance pair. I found this version in a collection named, appropriately, Medieval Instrumental Dances, by Timothy J. McGee. Dance pairs would have included a first tune with a title, possibly referring to a particular choreography, and a second tune, called an afterdance, titled only “rotta”, meaning “route”, or “trotto”, a derivation from the word “trottare” meaning “to trot”. The melodies of these afterdances would have developed from the title dance, but with shorter phrases and smaller note values. This particular afterdance is missing its title dance so we know little about its origins or its choreography. For me, its charm is in the melody and the missing story behind its title tune. I love that it can be transformed so easily into a jig.”
TIGER IN THE GALLEY
‘Valsjö-Tigern’s Polska’ (Traditional Swedish)
‘Jarl Squad’ (Liz Carroll)
Emma: “I learned this traditional tune from my father and grandfather, both fiddlers from the Swedish tradition. Valsjö is a village in the county of Hälsingland, and Tigern was the fiddler (and soldier) who was famous for playing this tune. The tune was passed down fiddler to fiddler, but this way of playing it originated in the mid-nineteenth century when Tigern was active.”
Liz Carroll: “I presented this tune without a name to the String Sisters at our recording in Shetland. After Catriona arranged for us to meet the Guizer Jarl (The Jarl Squad Leader) at the Up Helly Aa galley shed in Lerwick, I decided that the tune, with its swagger, might suit the Jarl Squad and so I named it for those fabulous Vikings.”
MÓ NÍON Ó (MY DAUGHTER O)
‘Mó Níon Ó’ (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh)
String Arrangement by Liz Knowles
Mairéad: “This song I wrote for my daughter Nia as a lullaby and a memento of her childhood. Having her has been the biggest gift with which I was ever bestowed and it has been such an honour to raise her here on the Atlantic shores of West Donegal.”
RETURN FROM HELSINKI (Ian Stephenson)
Catriona: “As degree programme director for Newcastle University’s BA in Folk and Traditional Music course, I have had the lucky job of working with some of the best young folk musicians from Scotland and England. Ian Stephenson, Newcastle-based guitarist and bassist, was one of the first intake in 2001. His beautiful tune Return from Helsinki marks his time as an exchange student at Sibelius Academy. I really enjoyed creating this string arrangement, taking the sisters to a sonic place where our solo voices can weave and blend, and ultimately play as one.”
VINTERFOLK (Tore Bruvoll)
Tore: “I wrote ‘Vinterfolk’ as the theme tune for a concert series at the folk music venue Riksscenen in Oslo. The concerts were presented January, hence the seasonal name for the piece.”
LATE NIGHT IN FØRDE (Annbjørg Lien)
Annbjørg: “This is a tune that I was commissioned to write by Førdefestivalen in 2014. The work was composed for String Sisters who attended this magical festival in that year. Førdefestivalen is held in a very small village on the west coast of Norway each July, and is a miracle of ingenious hospitality. They fly in bands from all over the world who instantly form an inspirational musical community over the long weekend. And, of course, there are some wonderful sessions going on late into the night!”
Liz Carroll: “Molly Gawler is a marvelous dancer from Maine, and she created a skit/dance for the group Childsplay, and titled it, The Blooming Conductor. It was a joy to create this music which took the conductor out of her cello case to conduct a group of fiddlers. ‘Liam Childs’ is named for Bob Childs’s son; ‘Balkin’ Balkan’ is for a Balkan who is balking; ‘The E-B-E Reel’ is woefully named for the first three notes of the tune.”
String Sisters are:
Annbjørg Lien |Hardanger fiddle
Catriona Macdonald | Fiddle
Conrad Molleson | Bass
Dave Milligan | Piano
Emma Härdelin | Fiddle, vocals
James Mackintosh | Percussion
Liz Carroll | Fiddle
Liz Knowles | Fiddle
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh | Fiddle, vocals
Tore Bruvoll | Guitar, backing vocals
STRING SISTERS are playing at:
The Sage, Gateshead on Friday, 19th January, 2018
Celtic Connections with “Scotland’s Wild Heart”:
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on Saturday, 20th January
“If you like moody, sometimes dark, folk music, punctuated by beautiful musicianship and artistry, then you will find nothing to dislike here.” —PopMatters
“Lien’s spectral fiddling proves hauntingly absorbing as it introduces the past to the future.” —The Washington Post
A virtuoso of Norwegian traditional music deeply inspired by the music of other cultures, fiddler Annbjørg Lien crosses musical borders as a pioneer for true “world music.” Khoom Loy, Thai for “Paper Lanterns,” is Lien’s eighth solo album and explores a broad spectrum of traditions ranging from her traditional Norwegian folk to Irish and Asian music, with Lien playing her native Hardanger fiddle as well as the keyed fiddle. Lien says of the album, “this is a tribute to a lovely ritual of the East: releasing lanterns in remembrance of the dead, or as a prayer for a good life. They serve as bridges connecting us to the past and the future, the east and the west, tradition and innovation.”
Steeped in the music of other cultures, Khoom Loy also represents a first for Lien—her world vocal debut to stunning effect, notably on the title track and “Den Storste Daarlighed,” which also offers a unique fusion of the Indian tabla with Celtic whistles. The album features Bjørn Charles Dreyer, Hans Fredrik Jacobsen, Bjørn Ole Rasch, Per Elias Drabløs, Per Hillestad, Orsa Spelmän, Kristiansand String Quartet, and Pat Broaders.
Winner of the Garmeleng Prize for classical folk and the Hilimar Award in her native Norway, Lien is also is a member of the world music fiddle group String Sisters (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Liz Knowles, Catriona MacDonald, Liz Carroll and Emma Härdelin) and has collaborated with American fiddler Bruce Molsky amongst many others. Lien comes from a musical family and learned traditional music from her father and classical music at the music school in Ålesund. She has since been teaching privately with other top musicians, including Hauk Buen from Telemark.