Monday, May 27, 2013

MIKAEL RAMEL – Till dej (Sonet, 1972)

International relevance: **(*)
Swedish vocals

Ranked #5 on the blog's Top 25 list

Any creator with a famous parent or two must have known it at some point in his or her career: the pressure of history heavy on the shoulders. Ask the Lennon kids, Jakob Dylan, or the entire clan of Wainwright siblings.

Mikael Ramel felt it too, being the son of Povel Ramel, the genius of words and music and a Swedish national treasure. Just about everyone in Sweden knows who Povel Ramel is. Most Swedes can hum a Povel tune. Povel entertained listeners, viewers and readers for an astonishing 70 years!

Mikael himself made his vinyl debut as a 16 year old in 1965, releasing a seven inch together with his dad, the elusive ”En ren familjeprodukt”. The following year, the equally rare ”Förvånansvärt” EP appeared. Around this time, Mikael became a member of Steampacket, an outfit that released a handful of singles, including the evocative ”Bara ett par dar” and the freakbeat classic ”Take Her Anytime”, as Steampacket II. Steampacket faced a bit of a hassle in the UK, as there was another band with the very same name active in Great Britain. A band that included, among others, a young Rod Stewart, why our beloved Swedes had to change their name to The Longboatmen before eventually settling for Steampacket II.

It wasn't until 1972 that Mikael Ramel burst loose as a solo performer. ”Till dej” was his first album bearing his own name in large latters on the cover. An album which is a major achievement in every way. He finally demonstrated what a genius he was in his own right, after being a talented team worker for years. ”I never thought about it”, says Mikael when I ask him about the transition from a group member to a solo artist. ”It probably felt just natural, since Steampacket broke up,” he speculates.

Till dej” is everything that retro-progger Dungen tries to be. It's full of melodic twists, inventive arrangements, jammy portions and, most strikingly, lyrics pondering on man's place in society and in the world. That's not to say Mikael was, or is, a political writer in the same sense that many of his peers were. On the contrary, he's an unpolitical spectator of the world around him, reflecting on nature, drugs, the modern society and relations between people, often in a playful way. For instance, there are few songs with an anti-drug stance as rocking and captivating as ”Artifical Prana”. On recording the album, Mikael says that ”I remember the sessions to be full of curiousity, endless joy of playing and joy in general, plus persistence and purpose.” As for the burgeoning progg movement, he says ”I didn't care. It's time that made the phenomenon.”

With a keen sense of words and word play, it was obvious that parallells were to be drawn between Mikael and his dad. ”Yes, the older generation in particular – perhaps not that surprising... Sometimes, it was bothering. 'The man himself' really liked my solo debut. That, of course, was a kick.”

I can't help but wonder if Mikael was pushed in a certain direction when he was a kid; if he and his siblings felt any pressure to develop a strain of language similar to his father. ”Not at all!” he states. ”We were fashioned by our environment just like anybody else. Language was something obvious and natural to us. Nothing strange.”

Unfortunately, with the lyrics being in Swedish, foreign listeners miss out on many of ”Till dej's” excellent shadings. True, the songs, the playing and the production are top notch so there's still a whole lot to enjoy, but it's a pity that the linguistical shine is lost on listeners not familiar with the Swedish language. However, the CD reissues of ”Till dej” and subsequent albums feature some translated versions of a couple of Mikael's best early solo songs. There were plans to launch Mikael Ramel on the international market, but those plans eventually fell through. Even if these translations might be useful to foreign fans, truth is that they lose some of Ramel's natural flow and excellence in Swedish. They simply sound better in his native language.

Till dej” was in the making for a year and a half, an amount of time which, back in the day, were close to an eternity. The seeds of the album were sown in the late 60's, and – according to Mikael Ramel's website – a little time behind bars got in the way of the album's completion. So what seems like a big gap between the last Steampacket II single in 1968, and ”Till dej” in 1972 isn't that huge after all when you think about it.

The line-up features some prominent players, such as Bengan Dahlén, Eric Dahbäck and Per Bruun from Fläsket Brinner, as well as Mats Glenngård and Bella Linnarsson of Kebnekajse fame. Not to mention Turid Lindquist, Bobo Stenson and Slim Notini. A solid bunch, perfectly suited to match the songs themselves. Just about every track on the album is a winner. The songs are so thoroughly written, so meticulously executed, that it's no wonder that the album still is as fresh as a vernal breeze. This is music that simply can't grow old, or ever lose its grace. The efforts put into ”Till dej” still pay off. ”I know,” Mikael assures, ”that younger generations assimilate the product as a 'holy' thing. That is, to understand 'future' you need to look into the 'past', and 'Till dej' is part of that, as an example of 'teaching'. It's certainly a kick to me to know that my music has staying power. I sometimes listen to 'Till dej', to compare it to what others say and think about it... I know in my very nails exactly how the record was made. What an effort it was. And how long it took to make it!”

If you can ignore the fact that the lyrics are part of the excellence, then this album is, just like the title translates, for you. When all is said and done, it will remain one of the finest Swedish efforts of the 70's. One of the finest Swedish efforts in general, actually.

Many kind thanks to Mikael Ramel for taking my time to reply to my questions!

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Artificiell prana

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