Torgeir Waldemar – Jamais Vu
Jansen Records – 9 January 2018
Norwegian singer and songwriter, Torgeir Waldemar would appear to have an uncanny propensity to confound. With his eponymous first release in 2014, press and public alike initially found it hard to reconcile his outward appearance, long hair, beard and leather jacket, with what was a dreamy, brooding acoustic affair, compared at the time of release to 1970s Laurel Canyon-influenced offerings. If ever there was a case for not judging a book by its proverbial cover then this may well have been it.
Three years later and his second album No Offending Borders found Waldemar expanding his musical palette and treading ground anew. An intense release of varied sounds, the main focus of which, for many, was the fact that he brought blistering rock to the table, on two tracks in particular, with Summer In Toulouse and Sylvia (Southern People) about which Mike Davies, commenting in his FRUK review said ‘this is an album of great contemplative depth.’
What then to make of this five track E.P., or mini-album as his website would have it? Perhaps the Jamais Vu title gives a clue as to what might be about to unfold. In psychology, this term refers to the phenomenon of experiencing a situation that one recognizes in some fashion, but seems very unfamiliar. The simple premise is that, in the act of volte-face, Torgeir has taken two tracks from the first, ‘acoustic’, album and electrified them, and three ‘electric’ songs from the second and re-recorded them as acoustic tracks.
Whilst comparisons between the respective versions can legitimately be made based upon objective differences between the musical characteristics, it would be idiosyncratic to attempt an analysis based on an ‘I like this version better because…’ – such subjectivity should be the remit of the listener, who can decide from the comfort of their own preferred listening location. Suffice to say that what is on offer here is no mere re-cycling or re-hashing, listening to each song here brings something new to the table.
Somewhat conveniently, the first three tracks are those from No Offending Borders, with the final two being those from his self-titled album. The tracks are conveniently split this way on the vinyl release giving an acoustic and electric side (also available on CD and digital).
First up is Sylvia (Southern People). On No Offending Borders, this was presented, at just over seven minutes in length, as an intense rock song. With guitars slowly building towards Thin Lizzy-tinged peaks, together with Neil Young-style guitar riffs, the guitar solos were redolent of American Southern Rock. Here, whilst the lyrics still reference, amongst other things Southern Man, from After The Goldrush, (acknowledged by Waldemar himself), and the writer’s anger at human nature’s continued urge to be driven by avarice and selfishness.
‘Swinging bullwhip over foreign heads
Bragging ’round of our peaceful nest
Swimming around in gold
Spoiled by oil
Creating debts for the little ones’
This, acoustic version, at just over six minutes, is much more reminiscent of the softer, melodic side of Laurel Canyon, perhaps in the mould of The Flying Burrito Brothers or Desert Rose Band. With Waldemar’s rich full-toned vocals clearly audible in the mix, lap and pedal steels, together with swirling, evocative strings, take the instrumental break, and with choir-like backing vocals carrying the song into the realm of tie-dyed serenity, the overall effect is tantamount to orchestral in its production values. Truly a slice of sonic beauty.
Among The Low was originally seen as the most experimental track on the No Offending Borders album, somewhat traditional/rootsy at the core, with elements of eastern sounds and Celtic nuances, interspersed with screeching guitar patterns, fuzzy feedback and more southern rock riffs, alongside the banjos and tribal drums. What we are presented with here is a heavily banjo-led rendition, with fiddles and accordion providing adroit accompaniment to delightful vocals to produce a sound akin to an ‘Appalachian gospel’ which would not out of place on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
The final offering from No Offending Borders is Summer In Toulouse. Originally an eight-minute epic, this track betrayed Waldemar’s background in punk and rock bands and was variously seen as classic 1970s American rock, with Steve Earle and The Byrds-influenced country rock, together with Crazy Horse all referenced in contemporary reviews of the song. The re-recorded version, however, has done away with the extended guitar breaks, and distorted lead guitars, instead we are offered just shy of six minutes’ worth of simple acoustic guitar and harmony vocals inviting comparison with Crosby Stills Nash & Young. And compellingly interesting it is too. The song ends with psychedelic-imbued electronic squelches and squeaks which sounds to these ears like seascapes with birds but is somewhat perplexing given the fact that Toulouse is located inland.
The penultimate song, Streets, is also the current single. As originally penned, the languid, pedal steel introduction gave way to vocal harmonies à la CSNY, before a soporific instrumental break featuring more pedal steel, plus harmonica, transported one away. Here, if electric guitar-breaks-a-plenty are your bag, then you’re in for a listening treat, it’s the sort of track which could get you arrested for guitar overload. Initially solo, before vocals enter the fray, soon to be followed by more soaring solo guitar, now of the Neil Young type, before dual guitars spar and intertwine, bringing to mind to these ears the late, great Sassafras, until finally, after an all too short five and a half minutes, this acoustic treat is brought to an end,
In many ways, it is a case of ‘more of the same’ with regards to the final track. The original version of Take Me Home featured Spanish sounding guitar, banjo and vocals to produce a sound akin to the ‘Appalachian gospel’ mentioned above. This re-recorded version has a faster tempo, gone are the banjos and acoustic guitars, and in, once again, come the electrics. From the first introductory dual guitar notes, through the thudding back-beat, this song would not be out of place on The Outlaws‘ eponymous 1975 album. Torgeir’s vocals are superbly complemented here by those of Kristine Marie Aasvang, before yet more guitar, this time of a slightly fuzzy nature, develops in the instrumental break until this thunderous track ends in a manner that recalls Hocus Pocus by Focus.
Whether one considers it brave or foolish to release five re-recorded tracks in this fashion is probably irrelevant. The conviction and raison d’être of the artist is plain, for as he says, ‘Songs never stand still, at least not for me. They want to go on’. And go on indeed they do. In the space of five songs, ample evidence is gleaned as to the skilful, high-quality musicianship possessed by Waldemar. What is presented here is high-class music that certainly deserves a wider audience than just the good folk of Norway. Gode sanger Torgeir.
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