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Although only one of their previous albums (Essence, a French import) has been readily available in the United States, the Swedish folk instrumental trio Väsen actually released a total of four albums, including one recorded live on the radio, before this compilation was put together by NorthSide Records (a subsidiary of the Minneapolis indie label EastSide specializing in Scandinavian music). As such Spirit is a good survey of and introduction to the group's early work, when the group was still the trio of Olov Johansson on keyed fiddle, Mikael Marin on viola, and Roger Tallroth on guitar. The first four tracks are drawn from Essence and are well chosen, including the tender "Amanda" and the creepy "Pen-Knife Murderer." The next five are from Vilda and include the highly rhythmic "Roar-Resin," a schottische (2-step dance) by Roger Tallroth. The surface of "Roar-Resin" may seem simple -- just a couple of repeated strident motifs -- but the viola and guitar are providing complex support in the background. Tracks 10-12 come from the group's 1990 debut album, simply entitled Väsen. These tunes are simpler and more traditional sounding than the rest of the album, but the intricacy of construction to come is quite apparent. The next set of three comes from the live radio album entitled Levande and has an enjoyable live bounciness and scratchier string sound. Tracks 16-17 were also recorded for live radio but have never been released. "Griffenfeldt" is a Norwegian tune that sounds like American hillbilly music or like Finland's fiddle band JPP doing one of their imitations of a Texas twang. The next track is simply called "Polksa After Erlandsson" (a polska is a Swedish polonaise; Erlandsson was a great keyed fiddle player convicted of murdering someone with a pen-knife). The song is very Gothic, with a lot of layers and simulated drones on top of the real ones provided by the keyed fiddle. The last three tracks are just for fun. They are demos for Väsen's next album, then to be called Väsen V. They include the group's new member, percussionist Andre Ferrari. The irony is that the demos sound nothing like the eventual album, entitled Whirled. On the demos, Ferrari is playing a standard rock & roll drum kit instead of the mixture of world percussion that shows up on Whirled. And furthermore, the songs are obviously done for laughs, especially "Polskanizer," a mock-menacing tribute to some sort of science-fiction demon that threatens to "polskanize" you. The final track, "Höllö!" sounds like Monty Python gone to Sweden. All in all one could hardly ask for a better introduction to an international group. Spirit is a truly well-thought out and well-produced collection. Not to be missed.

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