Given the British/Celtic folk influences of their respective main bands (Espers and Ghost), it seems only natural that a collaboration between Helena Espvall and Masaki Batoh would find common ground in....Scandinavia? Actually, it's not really all that far musically or geographically, and the cleverly titled Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh has a similar timeless/out-of-time feeling, like the finest folk musics. For the most part, it's just the two of them with their acoustic instruments with very little in the way of added production or adornment. The album kicks off with a trio of traditional Swedish tunes, performed beautifully in Swedish. These are followed by another pretty (but brief) song in Swedish, featuring just Espvall's voice and banjo. The first of a handful of improvisations is next, a gorgeous piece for acoustic guitar and cello that is perfectly of a piece with the other material and segues nicely into an anonymous medieval composition. Batoh takes the vocals (in Japanese) for "Zeranium," the only song the two wrote together (besides the improvs), which leads into their final traditional Swedish track. "Neko Nemurenai" is another pretty improvised duet, this time on six- and 12-string acoustic guitars, that sets the stage nicely for Batoh's passionate reading of Son House's "Death Letter" (the only performance in English present). The album winds down with a traditional Finnish tune and another very spacy improvisation. Helena Espvall & Masaki Batoh is a gentle and beautiful album that emphasizes the dreamy side of their individual sound while celebrating and expanding on the European folk tradition. Don't call it freak folk. It's the real deal.
AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard