After all these years, I’m accustomed to hearing Scandinavian artists sounding as if they were born and bred in Texas or the Appalachian mountains, but Swedish sextet West of Eden are the first I could readily believe has their roots deep in the earth of South Yorkshire or some rugged Scottish coastal fishing port.
I first encountered the Gothenburg outfit two years ago by way of Safe Crossing, an album littered with references to places like Southampton, Newcastle, Deptford, Falmouth and St Keverne, compounding the image of a band that’s spent its life in English village folk clubs.
Since then, ill health and retirement have seen an upheaval in the ranks, but they’re still led by Martin and Jenny Schaub who, between them account for the vocals, tin whistle, guitar, pump organ and cittern, with the rest of the line-up now made up of Lars Broman on fiddle, Ola Karlevo on percussion and new arrivals Martin Holmlund and Par Ojerot on double bass and mandolin, respectively.
Musically, things have shifted slightly too, the Celtic foundations remaining, but now in an acoustic setting with a pervasive Yorkshire folksy air, undoubtedly compounded by the fact their latest album Songs From Twisting River was recorded at Pure Studios and produced by Damien O’Kane, whose background includes frequently performing the same duties for Kate Rusby. Indeed, just to add weight to proceedings, Rusby herself provides vocals on The Bee That Stung.
With a couple of musical contributions by Broman, the songs are all written by the Schaubs (usually together), though you’d be easily persuaded that the likes of River Fowey (about memories of the Cornish river), Song For A Rover, Black Boat (which features Union Station’s Ron Block on banjo), Wishing Well’s doomed love and the stately Winter’s Reign with its choral harmony refrain were all plucked from the traditional canon.
Adopting a generally reflective tone, they do playful (Spelling Song, one of the more Gaelic sounding numbers) and melancholic (Tumbleweed) romance with equal conviction, and while I confess I find Jenny’s pure vocals just have the edge of Martin’s more robust, slightly nasal tones, they meld together perfectly. Superbly sung and played throughout, Broman’s fiddle work and Ojerot’s acoustic guitar particularly fine while on a couple of tracks Michael McGoldrick contributes flute and tin whistle, respectively, both album and band stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that today’s homegrown folk scene has to offer.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released on World of Music, out now