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Various Artists: Swedish Songbirds

Mark Sabbatini By

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Full-price sampler albums tend to be unsatisfying, sort of like paying for a catalogue. Too many labels sell them at deep discounts, give them away with other CDs, and/or offer comparable collections on the web. The song selection is also usually less than spectacular, designed to appeal to as many potential customers—and offend as few—as possible.

All of those drawbacks are evident on Swedish Songbirds. Even though it's pleasant in a middling non-offensive way, the collection has the distinctiveness of a Honda when it comes to standing out in the traffic jam of compilation discs. There's nothing particularly Swedish about the performances or arrangements, just eight women singing fifteen mostly well-known standards at low to mid-intensity.

I've listened to complete albums by most of these women, and each one has stronger moments than the ones found here, but it isn't wrong to say the selections are a fair example of their typical work. Most deliver accent-free lyrics with commanding a commanding harmonic sense and enough extra spirit to be an anchoring presence amidst mostly light instrumentation. The solos are generally short and fill predictable spaces between verses.

The best hope one can have with a collection like this is finding a performer or two who stand out, directing attention toward someone whose albums one can explore with some confidence. Almost by default it's the more up-tempo selections that emerge, such as Rigamor Gustaffson belting out "I Will Stay The Way I Am," a defiant swinging original she co-wrote, with real vigor. She clips lines off even faster on "Bye Bye Blackbird," using the interlude for some of the few improvised wordless vocals on the album. Alice Babs gives a more classic quality to "Me And You" than many of the pieces here, with guitar and bass solos cooling off her old-time gait nicely.

Some highlights are simply beneficiaries of the song itself—it's hard not to like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," sung here dreamily by Sofia Pettersson, unless it's totally botched. Other listeners, of course, might have the same feeling about other covers such as "Body And Soul" or "The Look Of Love" (Lina Nyberg's low and lush tone is a pleasant contrast in pitch on the latter).

I played this disc a few times at the office and got some "that's nice" comments from people who dropped by for one reason or another, but no "wows"—or efforts to get back to business and quickly escape some radical freeform experimentation. But that's not of much value to someone looking to learn something about the distinguishing characteristics of Swedish jazz. Devout fans looking to learn something about these musicians might find the album of merit; the merely curious might be better off satisfying their fix listening to sound clips by the featured singers, many of which can be easily found with a web search.

Track Listing: Ain't That Love (Carin Lundin); When About To Leave (Sofia Pettersson); It Don't Mean A Thing (Alice Babs); Fool On The Hill (Sofia Pettersson); Butterfly (Jeanette Lindstrom); Rain Like Rivers (Lina Nyberg); Love Me, Or Leave Me (Carin Lundin); I Will Stay The Way I Am (Rigmor Gustafsson); Me And You (Alice Babs); Good Morning Heartache (Lina Nyberg); The Look Of Love (Jeanette Lindstrom); Body And Soul (Lina Nyberg); Bye Bye Blackbird (Rigmor Gustafsson); The Touch Of Your Lips (Johanna Grussner); Hallelujah (Sofia Pettersson)

Personnel: Carin Lundin; Sofia Pettersson; Alice Babs; Sofia Pettersson; Jeanette Lindstrom; Lina Nyberg; Carin Lundin; Rigmor Gustafsson; Alice Babs; Lina Nyberg; Jeanette Lindstrom; Lina Nyberg; Rigmor Gustafsson; Johanna Grussner; Sofia Pettersson.

Title: Swedish Songbirds | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Prophone Records


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