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"RAAsande BRAA" - Mixed reviews from UK, Sweden and the US (Blandade recensioner från England, Sverige och USA)

Raymond Greenoaken/Stirrings/UK:
"(---) A bunch of shaggy Swedish musos present an album´s worth of Incredible String Band songs translated into their natal tongue. Talk about finding a gap in the market... The ISB suffered a long period of neglect - the ´80s and ´90s, roughly speaking - during which their extraordinary legacy lay largely forgotten or denied. Not any more. The wyrd/dark/acid/nu-folk generation have done their homework, and the ISB´s influence haunts their every crochet. Nor are they afraid to advertise the fact. The ISB are as cool today as they were in the days of love-ins, freak-outs and rave-ups.
Musikgruppen RAA show you twenty good reasons why. ISB songs were slippery, elliptical, often difficult, but dripping with melodies that would break your heart in twain. From Cold Days of February to Maker of Islands, this album leads you lovingly through the treasure house of the ISB songbook. Stellan Sagvik and his pals are well-equipped for the task at hand. Like the ISB, they play between them a vast inventory of acoustic instruments; unlike the ISB, they play them all with infallible skill. They move effortlessly between styles and idioms, ranging from Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor to Berber trance-grooves and beyond. And in almost every instance they add a new gloss to the songs they cover. Maker of Islands is a smokey, supperclub vibe; Chinese White a petal-soft rhapsody; Son of Noah´s Brother an oracular tapestry of wave-sounds, wine glasses and a cameo from some ancient diety of the deep. Mad Hatter´s Song gets a Balkan make-over, Sleepers Awake is transmuted into Schubertian lieder; How Happy I Am sounds like a cave-full of boisterous trolls bladdered on root-beer and manflesh.
Every track brings an unexpected swerve. RAA range right across the ISB ouevre, taking in every album - yes, even the notorious clunker No Ruinous Feud. They, naturally enough, tend to favour the classic early albums (the first album through to Wee Tam And The Big Huge) but rather boldly pluck a full four tracks from the ISB´s 1974 swansong Hard Rope And Silken Twine. It´s a deftly-balanced, carefully-programmed sequence; you won´t want to skip a track for fear of missing some witty conceit or flicker of gorgeous melody. How good are the Swedish translations? I haven´t a clue, of course. Occasionally there are a few too many syllables in a line, but mostly it sounds as natural as the seasons. The sound of this CD is that of five men who really love their work."



Nick Lowe/UK:
"Rather Awesome,

The Musikgruppen RAA album is the most amazing thing, and since it turned up on eMusic a couple of weeks ago I've been playing it incessantly. Even the wife thought it was great till I fessed up that she'd just listened to 23 ISB songs, something she'd normally stick infected needles in her root canal rather than undergo.

It seems to be readily available in all the usual places, including Amazon & iTunes, and is pretty much a non-stop festival of wonderfulness. Don't be put off by the fact it's all in Swedish; this is actually one of the winning things about it, and if anything the less Swedish you know, the better. They've clearly put a lot of trouble into translating the lyrics into something appropriately rich and performable, and the experience is a bit like watching a foreign dub of a film whose dialogue you know by heart; familiar phrases pop out half-recognisable like old friends in strange Halloween costumes.

Far the best way to experience it is to download the whole thing without looking at the titles and then just play it through so you don't know what's coming till it hits you, sometimes in mid-track; the repeated jolts of incredulous recognition are part of the joy. But here's a track-by-track spoiler if you want a foretaste of what's in the mix. The killer items for me are nos. 3, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18 & 19 - though there are no duds, and the whole album is pretty consistently great.

1. Kalla februaridagar (Cold Days of February)
Wouldn't have been my choice to kick off the album, except in the way that it lulls you into a sense of lowered expectation that's then blown to smithery bits by what follows. It's a fairly straight rendering, with a lot of the weight on the lyrics & delivery, and a delicately low-key arrangement with some kind of squeezeboxy drone in place of the organ part and subtle zither & guitar support as it builds. But it feels like more of a showcase for the lyric translation than for the band and arrangements, and seems to promise a less musically adventurous album than what you get.]

2. Så lycklig e' jag (How Happy I Am)
It's fair to say this isn't what you expect after the opener. I haven't been pissed in Sweden since May 2009, but this is EXACTLY what it feels like. Captures the jug-band conviviality of the first album like nothing on the first album quite does in itself.

3. Den galne hattmakarns sång (Mad Hatter's Song) / Häxans hatt (Witch's Hat)
This is the moment when you realise you're in for something really rather remarkable. It's not just that this is a band that thinks nothing of translating and covering one of the most insanely untranslatable and uncoverable songs in the ISB catalogue; they turn out to do a truly fantastic job of pulling together the original's sometimes rather jarring clashes of style (and different takes) into a musically seamless and coherent continuum. And then we go into what turns out to be the album's leitmotif, a clarinet bridge based on the first "lalalala la" chorus in Witch's Hat, leading a terrific version of the song itself, which ends with a magnificent extended instrumental break bouncing the theme fugally between clarinet & accordion. It's just a shame about "Perithians dom" (apologies to Sverigophones for transcriptional approximation), though the next line about the rumbling tumbling rickshaw is a joy to hear mangle-wrangled into Swedish. But if you download nothing else, get this track. It's album-only on Amazon, but can be purchased individually on iTunes or eMusic.

4. Kusin kålmask (Cousin Caterpillar)
Tight acoustic arrangement with pretty harmonies on the chorus, a bit less rambunctious than the original.

5. Träd (Tree)
The Liquid Acrobat version rather than the first album, which makes the high bits something of a hostage vocally if you don't you actually have Mike Heron's voice in 1971. But quite a soft arrangement, with guitars to the foreground for the first time (there's no squiffer). Suffers a bit by comparison to either original, but the time signature switch between verse & chorus is suitably dramatic.

6. Kate Tok (Dumb Kate)
The song that makes Frutch look like Fairytale of New York; not much you can do to redeem it (with due acknowledgment to Sara's longstanding dissent, if she's there...), but they can' t be accused of not giving their all, with vocals out of the Kremlinaires and a knocking-over-tables vibe.

7. En ljus palett (Painting Box)
Lovely melodic arrangement with lots going on. You've forgiven them Dumb Kate by about 0'45".

8. Son till Noas broder (The Son of Noah's Brother) / Vattensång (Water Song)
14 seconds spun brilliantly out to two and a half minutes by some fairly out-there dronework with bowed dulcimer and what sounds like harmonic beerglasses. Water Song has a hard job following it, but they have the nice idea of fjording it up a bit with seabird noises.

9. Rider ut storm (Weather the Storm)
I only started to love this song when I heard Jay's version, of which this is the exact opposite. I defy anyone not to think of Monty Python for all 2'58".

10. L' oud (Sardis, Oud Tune)
This is brilliant, with shouty fake-Islamic vocals (or even genuine, for all I know), and a bodhran-like object being given a brutal drubbing in a rare percussive excursion. (Their basic instrumentation is guitar, accordion, clarinet, and bass - normally there's no percussion at all, just tight folky rhythm playing.)

11. Vid sköna sollandets kust (Banks of Sweet Italy) / Tills här blir där (Here Till Here is There)
Two of Robin's most meltingly beautiful melodies conjoined. Sweet Italy is impossibly lovely, and seems to have been geographically rewritten for local resonance; can any of our Norsepersons explain the new placenames? It gives Here Till Here is There a hard act to follow, and their version doesn't entirely nail its haunting gorgeousness the way Martin Simpson's does, but I like the Witch's Hat reprise subbing for the recorder trio at the end.

12. Kanske nå' ngang (Maybe Someday)
One of the great things about this song is the way it sounds like the product of some slightly sinister folk tradition from a country somewhere to the east of reality and west of any known maps. Not sure what he's gibbering about in the middle.

13. Kinavitt (Chinese White)
Next to no. 7, the other greatest song ever written about trying to do accountancy on acid (so, at least, Robyn Hitchcock's intro on one of their tour dates last year explained Mike had explained it to him, while Mike grinned Mikeishly in non-denial beside him). Delicate arrangement bringing out the striking harmonic moves that Rick was talking about; the accordion part is particularly fine here.

14. Svart Per-Ola (Black Jack Davey)
Fabulous Scandi-folk knees-up version; had me at the mad yodelling chorus, and will have you too if you don't run fast enough.

15. Igelkottasång (The Hedgehog's Song)
One of the standouts. Moving the guitar hook to clarinet shifts it from a calypso to a ragtime feel. Infectious as hedgehog flu.

16. Vakna, ni som sova (Sleepers Awake)
Boldest of all the rearrangements: essentially a solo performance with a single guitar accompanying, and it works so brilliantly you could cook your own heart on it. Not to be missed.

17. Min första kärlek (First Girl I Loved)
Not dissimilar to the guitar/bass interplay of the original arrangement, but smoother and more openly bossaesque. Lovingly done, if rather outdazzled by its neighbours.

18. Sången utan slut (Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending)
The Theta section mashed up with snatches of Ravel's Bolero and Witch's Hat, first together, then all at the same time. Utterly bonkers and has to be heard.

19. Klipper av banden (Cutting the Strings)
Wow. It's Cutting the Strings. Including the opening of Cutting the Strings. Big harmonised version with a souky feel to the arrangement. Fabulous.

20. Hittar till öar (Maker of Islands)
Sweetly intimate, songful chamber arrangement centred on voice and guitar; very Heronesque (in the mould of Little Girl and No Turning Back) & lovely.

But try to forget you ever read any of this if you go ahead and get the album. These are six terrific musicians who have clearly loved and lived this music for a very long time, and have a really deep sense both of the songs themselves as things of timeless brilliance that stand and deserve to cross languages and traditions, and of the unbroken spirit of String that ties them (and us) together. It's a great big yummy platter of warm heart pastry for the soul. Hugely recommended. "



Gunstone/UK: "I was very suspicious of a new treatment of the songs I know so well. I was won over in the first few bars – you have added so much and taken nothing away. I speak not a word of Swedish but it matters not as I, like millions of others, know the words already. Actually it still wouldn’t matter – we are all used to listening to Italian opera and world music after all. The great thing about Swedish language is how wonderfully expressive it is. The overall effect of it on this album is mesmerising – I kept seeing mind pictures of hardy northern travellers in little boats or huddled around a fire on the misty shore."

System Records/UK: "This new CD from the 5-piece Swedish folk group, Musikgruppen Raa, enter, for many, hallowed ground by presenting their own versions, in Swedish, of compositions by Mike Heron and Robin Williamson, of The Incredible String Band – but they make it work ! Although it probably helps for non-Swedish speaking listeners, if they know the original material. Musikgruppen RAA made this album not as a tribute but more of a salute to its inspiring roots. These songs have been part of the RAA songbook since their beginning, and are offered not as ‘Swedish copies’ but new, fresh versions of this legendary music."

Jay Ansill/USA: "Great work!! I think RAA really did an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the original ISB. And there are all sorts of really clever ideas....the one that stands out for me was on Witch's Hat...taking Robin's "La la la" and making it into a real tune that repeats at various points. Also, for me, not being a Swedish speaker, hearing these melodies in an unfamiliar tongue makes the "music" of the songs really stand out and I kept hearing things that I had never really noticed before. The whole thing is really captivating.";

Lira/Sweden: "With 23 songs by their musical inspiration idols the five men of Musikgruppen RAA now filled a CD to the brim. A neat sound paired with RAA's own self-will to a more laid-back music brew than ISB's, but steeped in a pleasurable musical way - completely in the ISB's spirit, that is to say ´play what you have at hand and play especially in your own way´: A nice tribute!"

SvD/Sweden: "When the music group RAA takes on interpreting the Incredible String Band in Swedish, it becomes almost challenging corny. The final track Hittar till öar / Maker of Islands is one of the more successful transformations of British hippie folk rock into Swedish prog ditty. "

Basse/Sweden: "RAA has really done a fantastic cross section from The Incredibles repertoire! I take my hat off ... or cap! The album contains, I admit, a brilliant selection. Sure, I personally miss a few titles but on the other hand; RAA've managed to enclose tunes from the Incredible String Bands ALL albums, that´s BIG! A cultural achievement, that is what it is! There must be a lot of work behind these Swedish interpretations, a job well done! Finally, the interpretation of "Sleepers Awake " is surprising and brilliant. Mike & Robin should be very happy! "

Miljömagasinet/Sweden: "In addition to traditional folk instruments such as acoustic guitar, violin and flute, the members of RAA play for example the for me unknown instruments Saz, Nilharpa, Domra, Darbouka, Domra, Tárogató, Chanter, Oud, Meghanharpa, Celtic lyre, Mbira and Sandegg. (---) Folk Music could well be on different levels, sometimes it can tear down the walls and ceiling in an Irish pub, but in this case it is probably best suited for an afternoon sitting on a historical museum cafe in the company of a cup of tea. A little stamping with the foot to the floor will be in the semi-instrumental L'Oud (Sardis) in which a certain swing in the style of Jethro Tull is present. (---) The song Sången utan slut makes me think of Frank Zappa, rather than on folk music, Zappa like that around 1970, and in Klipper av banden to get into a really scary sound, not so far from the wanderings of the songs on the soundtrack for The Wicker Man of 1973. In fact, several of the songs sound better than the originals like the just mentioned Klipper av banden / Cutting the strings, which in its original sounds quite annoying, frankly. But RAA plays it like folk music built on a night of helium without sleep. "

Musical Pointers/UK: "A delightful window onto a branch of world music which is normally outside the range of our coverage. Discs reaching us unsolicited from Sweden are nearly always stimulating one way or another, and this compilation certainly shows us what we missed in the heyday of The Incredible String Band in the '60s & 70's. Aficionados of the original group with their LPs in their collections will surely warm to this Swedish version of many of their songs, with delightful soloists and a vast range of instrumental backing. The production is in Swedish but the whole booklet is available in English on line; sadly, not the actual texts of the songs themselves. Nonetheless, this disc as been an ear-opener and I have put it on my iPod "Favourites"."

Rootsy.nu/Sweden: "Must have have been Stellan Sagvik, fanatical fan of The Incredible String Band, that ensured that every album by Musikgruppen RAA contained a song from that Scottish duo / group. But a song is one thing = varied and fun. A whole album of Swedish, that is translated, ISB songs becomes something more. How should I ask myself? What should I think? Do not misunderstand: "The Incredible RAA Band" is still a good album with a group of talented world musicians who sing and play many instruments (like guitars, accordion, flutes, saz, clarinet, Celtic lyre, water glass and Meghan harp). Incredible String Band was even better and, not least, different. Also I love songs like My Cousin Caterpillar (Mike Heron), and First Girl I Loved (Robin Williamson). And where does the problem occur? Yes, I want it to sound more like it sounded. Where did the spontaneity go, the youthful, jumpy and stare? The closeness between the Folk / World music and Rock attitude? Now it has become - at least - as much RAA as ISB. The music pulls off in the classical direction, renaissance and baroque. It sounds great - but so adult."

UNT/Sweden: "Songs, meandering melodies and fabulous shimmering, slightly surreal moods have been well utilized, the arrangement is almost as sprawling as the originals, but without plagiarizing. And by the translations you can still distinguish the quite different artistical temperament that emmerge from Robin Williamson and Mike Heron. There are little gems, like Stellan Sagvik´s translations of Water song and Maker of Islands - strangely beautiful, and in between some rattling antics of lightweight nature, which fit well with the Incredible String Band's character."


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