Susanna - Go Dig My Grave

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2018-02-09
Susanna - Go Dig My Grave
Susanna - Go Dig My Grave

Norwegian songbird and interpreter extraordinaire, Susanna Wallumrød adds to her fascinating (and lengthy) discography with her fourth album of covers, ranging from traditional English folk ballads to contemporary offerings from the likes of Joy Division and Lou Reed. As usual, eclectic is the name of the game in both song selection and musical arrangement. She also reunites with Swiss baroque harp player Giovanna Pessi (who collaborated with Susanna a decade ago on Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos), and the couple bring along accordion player Ida Løvli Hidle and Norwegian fiddle player and folk singer Tuva Syvertsen.

Susanna eschews Elizabeth Cotten’s trademark “Cotten picking” on the American blues legend’s shuffling ‘Freight Train’, reimagining it as a slow, meandering train ride through winding mountain tracks. The fiddle-and-accordion backing transform the track into a longing eulogy for a simpler time long gone. This may be the most poignant interpretation of the numerous (mostly folk) versions out there, from Dylan and Baez to Jerry Garcia and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Nothing compares to the jawdropping experience of late German New Wave-cum-Opera singer Klaus Nomi’s take on Henry Purcell’s ‘Cold Song’, so her (or anyone else’s) commendable vocal acrobatics are at a disadvantage, but it’s a game attempt that highlights her range (and breathing skills).

The only original composition, ‘Invitation To The Voyage’, finds Susanna setting one of Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil’ poems to a stark, minimalist backing. She confessed that she “fell in love with the beautiful poems and got the urge to sing some of them. This one is the first of the songs I have written to this poetry, and a wonderful mysterious world has opened up to me." A difficult challenge, to be sure, as she is somewhat handicapped by the preordained “lyrics” and rhythmic pattern, but one worthy of her compositional skills. Let’s hope for more to come on future releases.

The dirge-like ‘Rye Whiskey’ gets lost in its own experimentation…it feels like the musicians have fallen asleep midsong, and ‘The Willow Song’ and title track are likewise given such reverential arrangements that Susanna’s vocals may actually be too restrained and the listener loses the plot long before the denouement.

Previous albums with her Magical Orchestra partner Morten Qvenlid also revisited the Joy Division songbook for the mercurial, iceberg flow of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ that practically outsnores Low’s version in the somnambulism sweepstakes. Here, the obscure ‘Wilderness’ (from their Unknown Pleasures debut) allows her to venture forth without the danger of a presumptive skewering of a musical sacred cow hovering in the air. Her decision to sing it as a call-and-response duet with Syvertsen reveals another dimension to the original’s dark, hopeless plea by isolating the Dylanesque “What did you see there” (a la ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’), and reinterpreting it in the style of old folk songs that question perceived wrongs. The otherwise surprising inclusion thus fits in with the album’s overall mood and thesis.

Unfortunately, the audience may have bailed over the album’s oppressive despair and whistling-past-the-graveyard tone by the time Susanna arrives at Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’, turning one of Sweet Lou’s most optimistic songs into a gloomy, Nicoesque dirge. While certainly not the most depressing album I’ve ever heard, it does put one in mind of The Cure’s suicide trilogy (Faith, Seventeen Seconds, Pornography) that had me hiding the razor blades and tossing out that Nembutol prescription. Strictly late-night listening; not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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