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Steinar Raknes is a man of many tastes. A founding member of the fiery modern jazz quartet The Core, a collaborator with lyrical jazz violinist Ola Kvernberg, co-leader of the Vaggelis Paraskevaidis duo with yoik vocalist Inga Juuso, and leader of his own quartet that covers tango and bossa-nova classics, on Stillhouse, this Norwegian double bassist features his abilities as a vocalist and interpreter of eclectic, iconic American songs from the past few decades, as well as a few originals.
Raknes' acoustic arrangements are straightforward. His vocals are warm but his delivery direct and reserved, largely reciting the lyrics as matter-of-fact reporting, and never attempting to compete with memorable, existing vocal versions. His confident and powerful finger-picked playing strips the melodic content of these songs to their basic skeletal lines, his humble and intimate attitude stressing their emotional impact.
Raknes hosts Nashville harmonicist Mickey Raphael and several Norwegian vocalists on a few songs. Solveig Slettahjell brilliantly adds her warm voice to Raknes' on "Killing the Blues." Raphael is a perfect partner on the arresting, melancholic cover of Gillian Welch's "Tear My Stillhouse Down." Gently, with vocalist Unni Wilhelmsen, Raknes adds touching emotional insight to The Band's "Twilight."
Raknes couples Prince's "Kiss" with Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire," transforming the originals' explicit, seductive and reckless desire with the experience of mature and patient passion. This kind of peace-making with his own past serves Raknes beautifully on his original, "Time to Go" while a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" adds a distant and skeptical view of the historic event.
Raknes' best cover is John Prine's classic "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness," where his modest and sober approach fits perfectly with the words. He concludes this set with two originals, the bluesy "Down the Drain" and optimistic farewell "Walkin.'"
Surprising, beautiful and highly rewarding.
Track Listing: Killing the Blues; Corrina, Corrina; Tear My Stillhouse Down; Memories of Her; Twilight; Kiss; I'm on Fire; Sitting on Top of the World; Time to Go; Woodstock; Speed of the Sound of Loneliness; Morning Song for Sally; Down the Drain; Walkin'
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.