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Liila Jokelin - Kaamos on huono esileikki (Helmi Levyt Finland)

Liila Jokelin - Kaamos on huono esileikki
24 December 2019

In my review of Helsinki, Finland band Kuparilinna’s engaging 2016 self-titled debut, I marveled at Jokelin’s captivating lead vocals on three songs that she co-wrote (“Lemmestä tahdon laulaa,” “Tänne vaan,” and “Suostu en”). On each, her husky, sensual contralto provided a sharp contrast to regular lead singer Tuomas Palonen’s more pop-friendly croon. When Palonen released a similarly charming folk album in 2018, I wondered if Jokelin might also have one up her sleeve, after seeing some of her live acoustic performances on YouTube. At long last, her own solo debut is finally out, and it’s every bit as beguiling as one could’ve hoped for. Kaamos — which refers to Finland’s Polar Night, a period of 24-hour darkness during the country’s winter months; the whole album title translates to “The Polar Night is a Bad Foreplay” — is, like Palonen’s LP, rooted in traditional, homespun Finnish folk. But aided by two of her bandmates and co-arrangers, Risto Ylihärsilä (keyboards, drums) and V.J. Salonen (guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, kettledrums), Jokelin gussies up her acoustic-based compositions with spare yet succulent instrumental backing, while also blending in a variety of other styles.

For example, led by her brother Jantso’s squealing resonator guitar, the jaunty opener “Uin kohti pohjaa” (“Swim Towards the Bottom”) combines vintage-sounding Chicago blues with minimalist, no-wave punk. Continuing with the old-time blues motif, Jantso contributes a convincing, Little Walter-like harmonica wail on both the clomping, jazz-flecked “Saasta” (“Filth”) and the haunting, banjo-picked “Sateet tuovat terveisensä” (“The Rain Brings Health”). Elsewhere, “Tulet kohtaamaan taistelun” (“You Will Face the Battle”) features reverbed surf guitar riffs and Jokelin’s resolute whistling, “Rakkauslaulu itselleni” (“A Love Song for Myself”) mixes foot-stomping, hand-clapping Jewish klezmer and Finnish hummpa with romantic Spanish flamenco, and the galloping, piano/mandolin-driven closer “Kuolleiden puolue” (“The Party of the Dead”) adds Ennio Morricone/Sergio Leone-inspired spaghetti western shading to a boisterous, bawdy barnyard folk dance. (The aforementioned shindig is depicted in the song’s music video, which was co-written and directed by Jokelin, who is also a dramatist and playwright.)

The album is rounded out by three lullaby-soft, delectably sung acoustic numbers — the seductive “Kolme miestä” (“Three Men”), the Doors/Ray Manzarak-tinted “Pieni nainen” (“Little Woman”), and the twinkling, melancholy “Kahdeksas ihme” (“The Eighth Miracle”) — that showcase Jokelin’s impassioned, one-of-a-kind voice at its most soulful and affecting. The only caveat, as I wrote in my reviews of the Kuparilinna and Tuomas Palonen albums, is that Finnish-challenged listeners will want to eventually seek out a translated lyric sheet, to find out what she is singing about. But behind Jokelin’s powerful pipes and idiosyncratic songs, and Ylihärsilä’s warm and intimate, live-sounding production, Kaamos has a distinctive ambience that is enticing and transcendent, in any language. (helmilevyt.com)

(If you enjoyed the album, don’t miss this superb 32-minute solo concert Jokelin did at Helsinki’s Tenho Restobar in March 2019, during which she previewed all nine of its songs, along with two non-LP ones.)

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