Darling West: While I Was Asleep
Jansen Records – 16 February 2018
Another feather in the cap of Nordicana, Darling West are an Oslo-based Norwegian trio who, with Mari Sandvær Kreken (who handles most of the tremulous lead vocals) and husband Tor Egil Kreken upfront, Kjetil Steensnæs on backing and all three playing assorted guitars, are now making wider ripples, having notched up tour support for both Sam Outlaw and Lucinda Williams.
While I Was Asleep is their third album and should go a long way in turning the ripples into waves. It opens with a musing on mortality, war and human destinies for the martial beat After My Time, one of the few written in Oslo (the majority penned in Brooklyn), with its acoustic guitar accompaniment and infectious chorus hook. Mari and Tor interweave their voices on Rolling On, a bluesier, slowly gathering song about seeking salvation riding a simple repeated fingerpicked guitar pattern bolstered with Prophet 5 synth, handclaps and choral backing vocals.
Loneliness has a slightly poppier touch to its heartache with dobro, banjo, pedal steel and perhaps a hint of a Fleetwood Mac as Mari sings “if this is what loneliness feels like, I’ve never been lonely before.” Indeed, there’s a Tusk-era Mac feel too in the drum-led rhythmic groove and a muscular Steensnæs electric guitar solo of Better Than Gold, although Williams and some early Buffy Sainte-Marie vocal quivering are in the mix too as she sings about missing out on the things that matter by trying to have it all.
Thomas Gallatin’s drums also underpin the folksy lightness of the lyrically reflective Always Around, Tor handling the electric solo this time around, Steensnæs breaking out the 12-string for the 60s psych-folk colours of the title track, the pace quickening for the chorus and slowing back down again on the verses.
They remain in a summer of love mood for Traveller, a Simon & Garfunkel-ish song about a restless soul and choices made, the Krekens’ harmonised vocals and fingerpicking lushly augmented by pedal steel and a strings arrangement by Mari Persen. With David Wallumred on piano and the return of the backing choir, Ballad of An Outlaw was inspired by the story of Elvind Fredlaus, an 18th century Norwegian outlaw who spent twenty years hiding out from the law in the mountains, as, sung in his voice, he finds freedom and rest when he’s finally gunned down.
It’s back to an infectious pop vibe and those Rumours echoes for Don’t I Know You before the set ends with all three voices stepping up in harmony for the all acoustic, banjo-led Appalachian-sounding How I Wish, a song about not giving up the fight when the going gets tough.
When you think about Scandinavian Americana, then, with acts like First Aid Kit, Baskery, Benjamin Folke Thomas and Slow Fox, it’s Sweden that most commonly comes to mind; however, if they keep making music like this Darling West could well shift the compass.