Unni Wilhelmsen: 7 (2010)
She may be less known on an international level, but Unni Wilhelmsen is something of a star in her own country, with her 1997 debut going gold and winning two Norwegian Grammy Awards ("Best Female Artist of the Year," "Best Album of the Year"). Not bad for a singer/songwriter who began playing guitar at the age of 20, and whose first performance at an Oslo club serendipitously caught the attention of a journalist, who helped connect her with the record label, leading to the release of To Whom It May Concern (Polygram, 1997) eight months later. Thirteen years and six albums on, the simply titled 7 teams Wilhelmsen with producers Jan Bang and Erik Honoréthe duo that, amongst many other accomplishments, brought the renowned Punkt "Live Remix" Festival into existence six years ago.
Not surprisingly, Bang and Honoré bring a more electronic-centric sound world to Wilhelmsen's folk-informed pop and a host of guests who, despite spending most of their time in the jazz and improv worlds, clearly understand the importance of getting to the heart of a song in the same way that the two producers do. Wilhelmsen writes personal, direct songs of love but, despite the melancholy nature of the subject matter, avoids angst and melodrama. Instead, with a strong instinct for catchy hooks and eminently memorable melodies, Wilhelmsen delivers nine originals, along with a contemporary update to Joni Mitchell's classic "Both Sides Now" that, anchored by her gently finger-picked electric guitar, turns more expansive through Bang's samples, soft programming and string arrangements, Honoré's subtle synth work, and Lars Danielsson's ever-tasteful double-bass work.
Danielsson appears on half of 7, bringing warmth and spare lyricism to the bottom end. Another jazzer, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, brings similar personality and beauty to the haunting "Pedestrian Slow," where Bang's economical woodwind arrangement adds orchestral breadth. The trumpeter's shakuhachi-like tone creates a soft, layered cushion on the more rhythmically propulsive "Orange," which also features another fixture on the Norwegian scene, electric bassist Audun Erlien, heard most recently in Bergen with trumpeter Mathias Eick and in guitarist Eivind Aarset's Sonic Codex.
Aarset also makes a couple of appearances on 7, though they're of the same absent nature as on Bang's own exceptional debut as a leader, ...and poppies from Kandahar (SamadhiSound, 2010). Samples of Aarset's "guitar atmosphere" add celestial textures to the folkloric but electro-centric "Revolving Door," "Pedestrian Slow," and the atmospheric closer, "Forslag Til Drøm," the album's only non-English tune.
Throughout, Wilhelmsen's non-melismatic vocal approach brings a vulnerable honesty to the music. For Wilhelmsen, it's all about exploration and growth, and by teaming with the forward-thinking and unfailingly innovative Bang and Honoré, she's shaped an album where direct subject matter, delivered with egoless simplicity, transcends its inherent singer/songwriter roots through sonic landscapes that more purposefully convey the inner meaning of 7's deeply personal poetry.
Track Listing: Revolving Door; Space Opera; Delirium Park; Pedestrian Slow; Rain from the Blue Skies; Orange; Secret; Lucky; Both Sides Now; Forslag Til Drøm.
Personnel: Unni Wilhelmsen: vocals, acoustic guitar (1, 3, 8), guitars (2), banjo (2), harmony vocals (3, 5, 6, 10), treated guitar (3), piano (4, 7, 10), synthesizer (6), electric guitar (9); Ronny Johnsen: harmony vocals (1, 3, 8); Jan Bang: samples, programming, voice (3), string arrangement (3, 5, 9), woodwind arrangement (4), vocals (7); Eric Honoré: samples (1, 4-7, 10), synthesizer (1-3, 5, 6, 8, 9), organ (2, 4, 7), synth bass (4), programming (6, 7); Tor Henning Leh: acoustic guitars (1, 5); Lars Danielsson: bass (1, 2, 5, 10), double-bass (9); Anders Engen: drums (1, 3, 6, 7), percussion (1, 3, 7); Fredrik Møller Ellingsen: pedal steel guitar (1, 3), tremolo guitar (3), electric guitar (8), acoustic guitar (10); Eyvind Aarset: guitar atmosphere samples (1), guitar samples (4, 10); Espen Jørgensen: acoustic guitar (2); Jørn Raknes: dobro samples (2); Audun Erlien: bass (3, 6, 7); Arve Henriksen: trumpets (4, 6); Bruce Rasmussen: drum loop (5); David Wallumrød: piano (6).
Record Label: St. Cecilia Music