"RAAsande BRAA" - Mixed reviews from UK, Sweden and the US (Blandade recensioner från England, Sverige och USA)
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)
2. Så lycklig e' jag (How Happy I Am)
3. Den galne hattmakarns sång (Mad Hatter's Song) / Häxans hatt (Witch's Hat)
4. Kusin kålmask (Cousin Caterpillar)
5. Träd (Tree)
6. Kate Tok (Dumb Kate)
7. En ljus palett (Painting Box)
8. Son till Noas broder (The Son of Noah's Brother) / Vattensång (Water Song)
9. Rider ut storm (Weather the Storm)
10. L' oud (Sardis, Oud Tune)
11. Vid sköna sollandets kust (Banks of Sweet Italy) / Tills här blir där (Here Till Here is There)
12. Kanske nå' ngang (Maybe Someday)
13. Kinavitt (Chinese White)
14. Svart Per-Ola (Black Jack Davey)
15. Igelkottasång (The Hedgehog's Song)
16. Vakna, ni som sova (Sleepers Awake)
17. Min första kärlek (First Girl I Loved)
18. Sången utan slut (Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending)
19. Klipper av banden (Cutting the Strings)
20. Hittar till öar (Maker of Islands)
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."