A review for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Gavan Tredoux
Tania Opland's fifth album is a refreshingly eclectic mix of self-penned material, music from several traditions, with compositions by contemporary songwriters from the Seattle area and elsewhere. Clear production and taut acoustic arrangements complement her guitar, violin and dulcimer accompaniment to her vocals, well assisted by some skillful backing.
The breadth of musical ground covered by Opland is impressive, as she moves from a medley of French Canadian dance tunes, through Alaskan/Siberian Inupiaq welcome dances, a blues rendition of "Barbara Allen", and a medley of Nova Scotian fiddle tunes, to a Russian lament accompanied by Northumbrian pipes. The challenge faced by the eclectic is always the possibility that the material will jar and not sit well in the same vehicle. Here, while the interpretations offered are authentic, the material interleaves well without losing sense of contrast.
Three of the fifteen tracks are originals, to which one must add the blues arrangement and lyrical adaptation of "Barbara Allen". Although she eschews the songwriter mantle, her lyrical compositions are strongly drawn and evocative ("So he packed himself a bag and he went away/With his scarred and callused hands for his resume" - Ketchikan), her themes progressing from the 'hard times' misfortune of "Ketchikan" to the sense of unease that marks "Last Call". That said, it is true that her tunes and instrumental compositions are her foundation; lilting, rhythmic and keenly controlled.
Opland is based in Washington State, and compositions from the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle, feature strongly. Peg Loughran's wistful "Not Too Late", T.R. Ritchie's droll "Why does love (make you stupid)". and K.W. Todd's reflection on the settling of the Northwest "The Oregon Trail", deserve a wider audience. Todd's composition comes to the fore lyrically, with a keen sense of the disillusionment that inevitably followed the scent of Canaan ("We lay down beside them our love for their journey / And with it a curse on the Oregon Trail").
Robert Head, a fiddler from Portland Oregon oddly enough, provides what is arguably the standout track on the album, "Lefty's". Inviting comparison with the widely respected reincarnation of the Bothy Band, "Nightnoise" - who are also based in Portland - "Lefty's" will surely enter the universal repertoire of fiddlers in years to come. The arrangement here, on fiddle, dulcimer, guitar and tin whistle, is pursued with vigor. However, the musical tour hasn't finished yet, for Opland has benefited from a prol onged stay in England, from where she brings Yorkshireman Brian Bedford's "Roads" - which travels the harder roads - and Welshman Huw Williams' "Rosemary's Sister" - recalling the terror of the blitz.
Viewed in its entirety, Tania Opland's newest release offers a diverse collection of interesting music, well chosen and well executed. With full lyrics provided and brief discussions of each track included in the liner notes, it weighs in as a substantial step forward in this veteran performer's diverse career. It deserves to be more widely heard and appreciated.
This album can ordered from:
Squire's Own Music
P.O Box 15754
Seattle, WA 98115-0754