Baba Yaga

Annbjorg Lien

NorthSide Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


I can just hear the Faithful "Daily Vault" Readers now. "Duke," they're thinking, "the Celtic stuff was bearable. The bluegrass, that was scary. But now - but now - you're doing Norwegian traditional music?"

Damn straight, kids. Norway's Annbjorg Lien is the best new voice on the fiddle I've heard in a long time. Discovering her on her new CD Baba Yaga was like the first time I heard Ashley MacIsaac: brash, sensual, and completely novel yet capable of playing in a traditional fashion. She's fast as lightning and slow as treacle, plays like an angel having a good time on Saturday night, and is definitely worth the effort to seek out.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The technical term for what Lien plays is hardanger fiddle, which appears to be the traditional folk fiddle style of Norway. (Unfortunately, through all the websites I wandered through for this review, I never could get that term defined. Anyone knows for sure, send me email.) She is also a trained classical violinist, has won multiple Scandinavian titles in folk music performance, and with the band she is a part of, Bukkene Bruse, played at the closing ceremonies of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. She's a celebrity in Norway. With playing like this, she should be a star here.

While I hate to draw parallels, the musical resemblance to MacIsaac is strong. She is both an excellent traditional fiddle player and a musical experimenter, drawing on Celtic, Middle Eastern, and other influences from outside Scandinavia on Baba Yaga. Her music has almost a chameleon-like variance in intensity; from almost playful on "Old Larry" to heavy and portentous on "January", she shows the full spectrum of emotion inherent in her violin. At times, her technique is so physical as to almost turn the fiddle into a percussion instrument, and leaving the 'string sound' on the recording was a smart move. It's as if she was right there playing for you.

There are a lot of good tracks on Baba Yaga; it's hard to pick a few out for special notice. The title track is excellent, with its bizarre throat-singing intro; "Ritual" is melodic and bright, elegant in its stateliness; "Inoque", a result of Bukkene Bruse playing in Mozambique for Save The Children, is an odd yet wonderful interweaving of midnight sun and African skies; and "Wackidoo" is a Norwegian hoedown, suitable for kicking up one's heels and having a good old time. My favorite, however, has to be "Loki". I've never heard a piece of music capture so well the split nature of the Trickster and Betrayer of the Aesir.

Baba Yaga is one of the best traditional music CDs I've heard this year. It has opened me up to a whole world I didn't even know existed. (Great, more CDs to buy.) Music is universal and the fiddle even more so, and Annbjorg Lien is on her way to being a master of both.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of NorthSide Records, and is used for informational purposes only.