Nicolai Dunger

Sjunger Edith Sodergran

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Swedish singer/songwriter Nicolai Dunger delights in confounding expectation, moving easily from stark alt country to experimental jazz-pop fusion to cinematic chamber pop, but Sjunger Edith Sodergran has to be his most unexpected record so far. Finnish poet Edith Sodergran (1892-1923) was one of the first modernist authors to come out of Scandinavia, her poetry deeply influenced by the tuberculosis she suffered from for over half her life before dying at the age of 31. A tougher Emily Dickinson minus the sentimentality (and the ability to sing all of her poems to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas"), Sodergran remains a popular figure in Scandinavian poetry though her work is largely unfamiliar to the rest of the world. Although her poetry has been translated into English more than once, Dunger chose to set the original texts to music rather than using translations, and the gentle folkiness of the settings is a natural fit to the musicality of Sodergran's verse. (The poet wrote in both Finnish and Swedish.) Dunger's arrangements are based on acoustic guitars, accordion, minimal percussion (largely brushed drums), and keyboards, marking a midpoint between his previous folk and jazz idioms. His vocals are close-miked and often whisper-soft, then at times -- as on the closing track "Rosor" -- approximating both Van Morrison and Tom Waits. Listeners unfamiliar with the language can still luxuriate in the quiet intimacy of the sound, making Sjunger Edith Sodergran more of a late-night mood piece than anything else.

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