NORWAY: Trail of Souls - Knut Reiersrud, Solveig Slettahjell & In The Country
Updated: Jan 20
Kick back and relax with this slow-paced cover album that explores a wide range of genres all the way from blues to folk
When discussing records between the two of us that we review on Around The World In 200 Albums, Joel and I have on several occasions found ourselves discussing the phenomenon of albums from non-Anglophone nations that are sung entirely in English. Whilst we totally understand that English is the lingua franca of the world and therefore to be mass-marketable it is a necessary evil, it can sometimes be mildly frustrating because in spite of how high one’s level of fluency might be in English it can feel as though they are not expressing themselves as authentically as they could were they to sing in their mother tongue. Yet in the case of Trail Of Souls this does not matter one iota.
“...even if her emotions are not genuine, she pulls off the act so well and channels the pain of the lyrics so believably, even though she herself did not write them herself.”
Part of the reason for this is that singer Solveig Slettahjell’s pours her heart into the lyrics to such an extent that her emotions are convincing enough. Furthermore, even if her emotions are not genuine, she pulls off the act so well and channels the pain of the lyrics so believably even though she herself did not write them herself. The reason for this is that with the exception of the final track, Soul of a Man, which was written by guitarist Knut Reiersrud, all of the songs are covers of blues as well as gospel classics that have been slowed down, stripped back on a musical level and then given a jazzy or even sometimes folky inflection. Although technically listed as a jazz album, one would therefore be forgiving for also labelling this record as blues, gospel or even folk. That is because to some extend this piece holds strong roots in each of these genres. In fact, it could even be claimed to be soul due to Slettahjell’s immensely soulful vocals that accompany the wide-range of genres throughout.
Whilst this album for most people, myself included, probably stands up best when listened to passively, as background/chill-out music, it can be appreciated on a musical level when one is strapped in to just engage fully in the music. The only issue I had with it when listening intensely to the record is that due to its slow tempo, often dark lyrics and its length, after a while it started to become a bit too overly-sombre for my liking. I don’t necessarily mind dark and depressing music, see my review of Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker as proof, but in the case of this album it is the composition of the music that really grabs my attention rather than the depressing lyrics.
The arrangement of the music stays interesting and varied until the end so it definitely does not overstay its welcome. For example, the album starts off slow and seductive in the song Borrowed Time with its floaty, beautiful synth work from In The Country's pianist Morten Qvenild, before Reiersrud quickly steals the show in the next track Grandma’s Hands with his sublime harmonica solo. In fact, this is one of three most well-known covers on the album, as it was originally sung by the late great Bill Withers. The others are Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street and the aforementioned Leonard Cohen's Come Healing. Whilst, I really like the cover of Come Healing, I find the version of Mercy Street on Trail Of Souls to be a little too eerie for my taste. However, don’t let this put you off, as there are some really beautiful tracks in there that are in no way ominous like this. Take for example my pick of the bunch, Holy Joe, which is a relatively upbeat number. Whilst this album does not necessarily reveal much about Norway to me, that is by the by. It is a beautiful opus of varying styles that blend wonderfully together to create a relaxed atmosphere, which I most certainly would recommend.