Tuesday, January 16, 2024

MIKAEL RAMEL & UNGA HJÄRTAN – Hälsa på som förr (no label, 2023, rec. 1973)

Swedish vocals, English vocals
International relevance ***

Like a gift from above, this album appeared without much ado in late 2023. Who would have thought it? A vintage live recording to add to your collection of glorious Mikael Ramel albums! Just like that! But... in only 200 copies on vinyl, no CD, and no streaming. It's a somewhat secretive release in general -- it's an official release, not a bootleg, but it has no record label name anywhere. (The Spinroad logo on cover and label is for the pressing plant.) It's bound to become a massive rarity which is a great shame as this is an essential album to any Ramel head.

So what exactly is it? It's a recording made for the Swedish Radio live show Tonkraft in March 1973, in pristine sound quality. Who are backing band Unga Hjärtan? Basically a diminished Fläsket Brinner with Gunnar Bergsten, Bengt Dahlén, Erik Dahlbäck and Göran Lagerberg. Where has this been tucked away for years? Who knows, but it's not a newly discovered, long forgotten recording as it's been available to listen to on Mikael Ramel's website. It should be pointed out though that the website has more songs – ”Hälsa på som förr” actually loses two tracks plus the coda to ”Pengar” from the original broadcast. Very strange as they kept the radio presenter's intro to the show, wasting a couple of minutes that could have been used for something more uself. And the Dahlén sung cover of ”Heartbreak Hotel” is unnecessary – I'd much rather have seen the half-deranged live take of ”Artificiell prana” in its place. The set list is also jumbled. So, some small flies in the ointment but you can live with it. Because most of what you do get is bloody marvellous! And the mix sounds better balanced too.

The show was recorded before Ramel's second album ”Extra Vagansa” was released, and several songs are presented here in vastly different versions than how they appeared in their finished studio forms. ”Så länge're svänger” that kicks the whole thing off is a light and swiftly moving number on the album, but here it's immersed in a heavy and incredibly sexy groove bordering on the nasty. ”Apfigur” is brooding enough on the album but almost ominous here. ”Lukter runt holken” is lilting sweetly in the studio but goes bonkers here, almost approaching chaos in the best sense of the word. And so on.

The playing is sometimes ragged (but again in the best sense of the word) but as you'd expect, also brilliant – Bengt Dahlén is particularly striking on guitar (no news there). Even the slower tracks generate so much energy that you could light up a room with it. Ramel's studio albums never sounded this mean and halfway out of their seats, so ”Hälsa på som förr” isn't just one hell of an album, it also adds something important to what we already knew about the genius of Mikael Ramel. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished that this will get a CD release too, preferably in complete, unalduterated form. It deserves to be heard in full by more people than the tiny vinyl edition can satisfy.

Full show on Mikael Ramel's website

Monday, January 15, 2024

ERIC BIBB – Ain't It Grand (MNW, 1972)

English vocals
International relevance **

Eric Bibb is a well-known name these days, hailed for his live performances and numerous albums somewhere between blues and singer/songwriter material. Born in New York City in 1951, he was given his first steel string guitar at the age of seven. Quitting his studies in Russian and psychology, he left for Paris in 1970, assumably as a draft dodger, before settling in Stockholm shortly after. Once there he got in touch with the still relatively new MNW label and MNW co-founder Roger Wallis who took him under his wings and released Bibb's first-ever album ”Ain't It Grand” in 1972. Wallis also provided horn arrangements and piano for the album, joining forces with people like saxophonist Christer Eklund (Grapes Of Wrath, Slim's Blues Gang, Rolf Wikström), bassist Torbjörn Hultcrantz (Bernt Rosengren, Albert Ayler and numerous other jazz luminaries) and Dave Spann (Red White & Blues, Vildkaktus).

”Ain't It Grand” has those sweet characteristics of a good debut album. Bibb was already a skilled player with a keen sense of delivery (and a very pleasant voice), but the music isn't yet fully formed. It has an intimate, stripped-down feel and there's a seeking, trying quality to it, a certain hunger to prove its greatness to the world. Sometimes it reminds me of Terry Callier and Bill Withers, sometimes it's a bit like John Martyn. One track, the lovely ”Tuesday Mornin' Rendezvous” even hints at UK guitar maestros Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. The more laidback tracks are nicely balanced against a couple of songs relying more on groove, such as the album closer ”The Last Time?”. The semi-shuffle ”Lovefire” in turn has some biting electric guitar and gurgling wah-wah faintly like a lighter variant of Pete Cosey's work on Muddy Waters's and Howlin' Wolf's psych blues albums on Cadet Records. The understated aggression of the playing goes well together with the lyrics reflecting Bibb's anti-racist and anti-draft stance.

”Ain't It Grand” is something of a forgotten nugget, especially in the MNW discography. It captures the spirit of the times but doesn't feel the slightest antiquated. For reasons beyond my knowledge, it took him five years to release his second album ”Rainbow People” on the audiophile imprint Opus 3. A more exact and polished effort for sure, but also lacking the imperative and directness of his beautiful debut.

His stint with Opus 3 also hooked him up with folksy singer/songwriter and U.S. expatriate Bert Deivert for a couple of collaborative albums, and as a side note, I'd like to mention Deivert's own 1979 album ”Handcrafted Songs” which might appeal to fans of Bibb's folksier sound, especially that which veers towards the U.K. style perfected by Bert Jansch.

Bibb's vast discography includes further collaborations with artists such as Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur, Swedish gospel singer Cyndee Peters, and Eric's dad Leon Bibb.

Full album playlist

Sunday, January 14, 2024

ONNA TAAS BAND – Allo' (Bellatrix, 1980)

Swedish vocals, English vocals
International relevance: **

Ronny Carlsson was a well-kept secret to most but hailed as a hero and a legend by many having heard his music. He first made his mark with the band Rockamöllan in the late 70s, and after their demise, he started Onna Taas Band before launching a long solo career. He was in possession of one of the gruffest voices ever heard on a Swedish album, strangely warbly and grainy like a gravel road. Singing in his native Southern dialect (similar to Peps Persson's) only added to the air of world-weariness. He sounded as if he had seen it all, been burnt by it all and finally rejected it all. In his own words from the track ”I ett rum någonstans på stan”, translated here for international understanding: ”It's not hard to break a lonely man”. His voice was of the kind that comes back to haunt you when you switch off the light at night.

Needless to say, a voice like that will dominate any album it appears on. If you take the music on Onna Taas Band's debut album, it's not that dark. There are hints at reggae, cajun music, pretty straigh-ahead rock, John Holm influenced balladry, blues, even faint dashes of post punk (it was, after all, 1980)... But once Carlsson's voice enters the mix, the mood changes in an instant and everything becomes something else, something more, and something decidedly darker. There's so much pain at work here it's impossible to turn away from it. At its best, this is every bit as gripping as John Holm's depictions of a reality cracking slowly but irreversibly. And the thing is, even if you don't understand Carlsson's poetic words, you still sense their exact meaning. Ronny Carlsson didn't just sing, he WAS his lyrics, they're inseperable and it's impossible to not understand.

Despite the stylistic diversity, nothing here seems out of place. Even the highly Ronny Åström inspired ”Säporerad cirkus” slips in nicely between the mild Dylan funk of ”Ord som blev över” and the brooding folk of ”Den välkände soldaten”. On any other album, ”Säporerad cirkus” would be the track to skip, but not here. It has its place.

This is just a deeply human album. Like humans it might scare you with what it has to say or it might comfort you with its honesty and intimacy. (Like Swedish music journalist Bengt Eriksson said about Carlsson: he sang between pain and comfort.) But most of all, it's just a brilliant album.

Carlsson made several more albums under his own name up until 2013, the last one consisting of recordings made in the years before its release. One more was in the making, but he died in 2014 before it was finished, at the age of 62 and marked by a hard life. A life that came through unfiltered in his voice.

I ett rum någonstans på stan

Saturday, January 13, 2024

FERNE – Ferne (Bellatrix, 1978) / Clown på allvar (Bellatrix, 1980)

Swedish vocals
International relevance: **

Ferne, or if you prefer his real name: Lars Fernebring, was one half of Risken Finns along with Gunnar Danielsson, releasing two satirical albums in the early 70s. When the duo split, Danielsson moved to Gothenburg to start Ensamma Hjärtan while Ferne remained in the southern city of Lund where he launched his solo career some years later.

One could expect his first albums of his own after the demise of Risken Finns to be, well, if not masterpieces so at least better than they actually are. Well, they're not particularly bad but not particularly good either. His self-titled first one from 1978 is the better of the two reviewed here. Falling somewhere between Thomas Wiehe (who also appears on the album) and – shudder! – Björn Afzelius musically, it has a more serious vibe than Risken Finns. But at the same time, it's as if Ferne can't fully let go of the past, and it ends up being something of a half-measure. And as with all half-measures, it ends up being unsatisfying.

The title of his second album ”Clown på allvar” means, roughly, ”clown for real” or ”serious clown”, and that's explanatory enough. In some ways it's closer to Risken Finns than his solo debut (even referencing back to Risken Finns song titles), but whereas they were fresh and funny, ”Clown på allvar” feels stale. As always, The greatest thing here is Jan Gerfast who shines on guitar (as he did on the first album), but the songs are simply not good enough on neither of the albums.

Ferne made one more album, the concept album ”Snapphanar”, in 1982 before dropping out of record making. He worked for the southern department of Swedish Radio for many years, and held lectures on local history. He suddenly return to music in 2003 with an album of Dylan covers in Swedish, followed by two further solo albums in 2006 and 2013 respectively, the latter one being another Swedish Dylan tribute.

No links found

Friday, January 12, 2024

COSMIC OVERDOSE – Dada Koko (Silence, 1980) / 4668 (Silence, 1981)

Swedish vocals
IRG **

Where to draw the line? What is progg and what is not? I prefer to use the 'benefit of doubt' principle here on the blog, and gladly let through albums that some people sometimes deem controversially un-progg. But an ambition of mine as your humble blog owner is to widen the idea of progg, to trace influences and entwine threads in order to see patterns and relations even in unexpected places as long as they appear within the time frame of the Swedish Progg Blog. This is not as much an apology as it's a declaration of objectives. That said, I was long undecided if Cosmic Overdose belong here but was convinced by some blog followers to let them in. Those people reminded me of the benefit-of-doubt principle.

After all, Cosmic Overdose sure had some progg credentials working for them. Two of the members used to be in Älgarnas Trädgård and Anna Själv Tredje, Dan Söderqvist and Ingemar Ljungström respectively with Ljungström performing as Karl Gasleben, sometimes Terminalkapten Gasleben.(Söderqvist was also in Ragnarök.) Originally inspired by David Bowie's ”Heroes” and Wire's game-changing debut ”Pink Flag” in 1977, they came together as Cosmic Overdose the following year. Their name was chosen ironically but had an equal krautrock and synth punk ring to it. That's telling enough.

Upon seeing Sheffield's haunting industrial band Cabaret Voltaire and maverick Fad Gadget live in London in 1979, the Cosmics expanded their line-up to a trio, adding Kjell ”Regnmakaren” Karlgren on drums. Already affiliated with Silence Records (home of both Älgarnas Trädgård and Anna Själv Tredje), the label released their debut single ”Observation galen” in 1979. Backed with ”Isolatorer”, it wasn't an entirely convincing start. The 'A' side especially is a revved up number, more akin to fellow Gothenburgians and post punk outfit Kai Martin & Stick! – it even took use of a saxophone on the verge of a nervous breakdown similar to what Gomer Explensch did in Kai Martin's band – than the future style of Cosmic Overdose. Peter Bryngelsson from Ragnarök also joined in with his easily detected guitar playing.

It wasn't until their first full-length 1980 album ”Dada Koko” that Cosmic Overdose found the style in which they truly excelled. Tempos were slower, synths and drum machines dominated the sound that could easily be dubbed coldwave with a more modern, after-the-fact term. Added to the chilly electronics was the sometimes space rock-floating sometimes chunky and punkish guitar; the mix of contemporary synthetic sounds and the humanly fleshy guitar created an unnerving ambiguity. Never as uninhibited as say Métal Urbain or serial killer neurotic as Suicide, Cosmic Overdose carved out a niche of their own in the all too small synth punk genre, constantly permeated by their kosmische progg past in Älgarnas Trädgård and Anna Själv Tredje.

”Dada Koko” is a fullblown masterpiece. You'd be hard pressed to find a bad track among the eleven that constitute the album. If there is one, it would be closing track ”Råttan”, but preceeded by tracks such as the uneasy ”Investera”, the jittery ”Moderna dadaister”, the menacing (and slightly Tubeway Army-inflected) ”Vit yta” and the threatening ”Turs”, they had already won.

Following a great seven-inch released later the same year, the English language ”To Night”/”Dead”, the album follow-up to ”Dada Koko” was released in 1981, with Regnmakaren substituted by Jimmy Cyklon (real name Thomas Andersson). ”4668” is a tighter sounding album, but it has some tracks that come off as a bit underdeveloped and not as distinct as the selections on ”Dada Koko”, It still has a lot going for it though. ”En av dom” has a few vocal parts that remind me of French Wagnerians Magma (!). The icy ”Oktoberfragment” ought to get your skin crawling. But the real blast here is album opener ”Bomber”, a stone-cold Cosmic Overdose classic that would have stood up well for itself even on the just about impeccable ”Dada Koko”.

Cosmic Overdose attracted international interest and amazingly enough, even the States were keen on them. (Remember, they were no ABBA or Blue Swede, and for a band as small as Cosmic Overdose to make waves there was no mean feat.) An American 'best of' with the lyrics translated to English and the chosen tracks remixed was planned but ultimately shelved. Instead, a cassette-only album named ”Final KoKo” was released on Gothenburg label Xenophone International, consisting of the recordings intended for the stateside market. The U.K. too wanted to lay their hands on the band, but the Brits insisted on a name change. A personnel change later, they settled for Twice A Man as their new name. As such, they embarked on a second career that lasts to this very day, including numerous releases in various formats. But with the name change, the original dark magic of Cosmic Overdose was lost.

In 2016, the Cosmics were given the box set treatment when Progress Productions released ”Total Koko”, a 3CD set including both their original albums in full plus a bonus CD featuring the 45 exclusives as well as several previously unreleased recordings.

So, is it progg or not progg? It really doesn't matter, because regardless of what label you want to slap on the music, Cosmic Overdose's small ouvre stands out as something very, very special. The only word you really need for it is 'essential'.

"Dada Koko" full album playlist
"4668" full album playlist
"Final Koko" full album playlist
"Observation galen" single playlist

"To Night" single playlist

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

MARIE BERGMAN – Complete albums 1974-1980


Marie Bergman is one of those artists too far from progg to belong here and too close not to do so. She's 'progg-by-association' but she's basically a singer/songwriter with the oft-hired Swedish studio mafia of the 70s backing her, granting her a couple of commercial successes in the second half of the decade. Her cover of Kate & Anna McGarrigle's ”Complainte Pour Ste-Catherine”, translated to Swedish by her good friend Ola Magnell as ”Ingen kommer undan politiken”, was a radio staple in and around 1977, and her version of Kjell Höglund's ”Lugnare vatten” was also on a rather heavy rotation a couple of years later. She appeared as a backing singer on all three of John Holm's 70s albums, as well as on discs by Ola Magnell, Rolf Wikström, Björn J:son Lindh, Pugh Rogefeldt and several others less progg related artists. In short, she was a stahlwart on the Metronome label led by producer Anders Burman's instincts and nose to sniff out off-kilter yet still commercially viable signings. Well, she was actually on Metronome already earlier as a member of the very successful vocal group Family Four which she joined in 1969.

Mitt ansikte (Metronome, 1974)
Swedish vocals
International relevance *

Her first album after leaving Family Four sounds a bit like a crossbreed of Ola Magnell and Joni Mitchell, the latter absolutely permeating the track ”Tiden”. The American West Coast sounds also come through in her cover of Neil Young's ”Helpless” (translated by Magnell). The title track and ”Villiga Ville” however are two funky tracks in sync with the times, while ”Sånger” is a loungy throwback to the Family Four style.

Närma mej
(Metronome, 1977)
Swedish vocals
International relevance *

It took her three years to deliver her second solo album, but marked a breakthrough to a wider audience. It features ”Ingen kommer undan politiken” and her sensitive take on Ola Magnell's ”När vällingklockan ringde” from his ”Höstkänning” album released the very same year. ”Närma mej” is an album very much in the same style as her debut albeit with the funk substituted for novelty-of-sorts duds like ”Sången om den eviga lyckan (Johan)” and ”Mål eller miss” (the latter actually a cover of American folk singer and activist Odetta). The ”Blue” era Joni Mitchell influence is still evident though, especially on the piano based title track. Also included is a Swedish cover of Little Feat's ”Roll Um Easy” as ”Vänj mej varsamt”. Say what you will, she had good taste!

(Metronome, 1979)
Swedish vocals
International relevance *

Third album and more of the same, only with a glossier production. This time the covers are by Swedish songwriters only, namely Björn Afzelius and his ”Balladen om K”, and the aforementioned Kjell Höglund's ”Lugnare vatten”. ”Lugnare vatten” is the best track on the album along with the surprisingly anguished (for Bergman) ”Lägg inga plåster på såren”. The most obvious ersatz Joni Mitchell this time is called ”Lekvisa”.

Jorden är platt (Metronome, 1980)
Swedish vocals
International relevance*

A joint venture between Bergman and much respected guitarist Lasse Englund; they also married the following year. It's a children's album and also the most interesting installment in Bergman's discography. Some songs are rather strange, and it seems that the idea of making music for kids pushed both Bergman and Englund out of their comfort zones. One track – ”Mammas stora säng” – even shows a faint resemblance to psych collector Hawaiian darlings These Trails. All in all, this is the Bergman album that comes closest to progg. But despite that, and despite being the most interesting album of hers, it's still not good enough to recommend. It's a bit of a curiousity, but not much more than that.

All these albums have their moments, but too few to recommend. From a progg perspective, they remain very minor footnotes. Bergman's recording career continued to 2013 when her, for now, last album was released. Her style hasn't changed much over the years and the sound of her albums have been very anxious to follow the production trends. When her early albums, her best ones, aren't very good you can imagine the rest.

Mitt ansikte full album playlist

Närma mej full album playlist
Iris full album playlist
Jorden är platt full album playlist

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

LOKOMOTIV KONKRET – Stockholm Augusti, 1978 (Urspår, 1979) / Lokomotiv Konkret (Urspår, 1980)

International relevance ***/***

Lokomotiv Konkret were formed in 1976 by Israeli-born saxophonist Dror Feiler who made his mark in more areas than just music. As an conceptual artist, he stirred up controversy with his installation ”Snow White and the Madness of Truth” in 2004 which had Israeli ambassador Zvi Mazel vandalize the work, followed by a diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Israel. Feiler is one of the driving forces behind Ship to Gaza who attained immediate international recognition in 2010 during another confrontation with Israel. As a member of Vänsterpartiet (the Swedish socialist party), he's run for the Swedish parliament as

well as the EU parliament, and has demonstrated against the far-right Sweden Democrats by blowing his saxophone loudly to disturb their public meetings. A musical activist as well as a political one, Lokomotiv Konkret has declared that their music is ”free improvisations over the fair distribution of the world's resources in an ecologically sustainable society based on democracy, equality and solidarity”.

Lokomotiv Konkret began in 1976 and made their album debut in 1979 with the first-ever release on the Urspår label (later home to Kräldjursanstalten, Von Zamla and Rena Rama). The album, explanatory entitled ”Stockholm augusti, 1978”, is a violent and assault on the audience at the House of Culture, with a strong bond to Swedish free jazz pioneers G.L. Unit and the European scene spearheaded by German wildman Peter Brötzmann. It's a remarkably intense and abrasive performance, guerilla jazz, that hardly eases up even in the quieter moments; the sparser moments hold the tension and are more like a cunning plans for what's about to come again than a relaxation from what preceeded them. “Stockholm augusti, 1978” stands up strong to just about anything that the European free jazz had to offer and truly working on an international level. A must have.

Lokomotiv Konkret's second, and self-titled, album followed in 1980. Also a live document, this time with recording locations shared between Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art and premiere jazz club Fasching in 1979. Bass trombone player Pär Nordfält left and was replaced by highly respected Sten Sandell on piano, the sound of the band changed somewhat and the tracks are shorter. To make required space for the piano, the rest of the ensemble holds back a bit. The direct attack of their debut is less direct here. They harness the energy and kind of distributes it on the width rather than assaulting you straight in a concerted attack. You could say that ”Lokomotiv Konkret” is a more sophisticated effort than the debut LP. It's all down to preferences which one that suits you the best; the frothing outbursts usually get my nod – the uninhibited energy is why I gravitated towards free jazz to begin with, with the (slightly more) reflective side of the genre being more of an occassional complement, so my choice would be the debut album. I'm not saying that “Lokomotiv Konkret” is a lesser album, I'm just saying it's different. In the end, it's an essential album to go along with the relentless ”Stockholm augusti, 1978”.

Seemingly still active off and on, Lokomotiv Konkret has released only three more albums during the course of twelve years, the last one being released in 1995. Although it's outside the time frame of the blog, I'd still like to recommend their third album ”The Sky's The Limit” from 1983 which is the one of theirs closest to ”Stockholm augusti, 1978”. Also worthy of investigation if you can find it is the 1988 one-off album by Too Much Too Soon Orchestra, appropriately titled "Saw - Music For Instruments And Machines". A merciless slab of noise jazz, also notable for being one of the first appearances on disc by free jazz giant Mats Gustafsson.

Stockholm augusti, 1978 full album

Lokomotiv Konkret full album