Maggie Bjorklund - Shaken LP
Includes mp3 download of album.
Shaken, the sophomore recording by Danish singer, songwriter, and pedal steel guitarist Maggie Björklund, is an intimate, shadowy, yet cinematic offering. Its songs, vocal and instrumental, are rooted in experiences of familial and personal loss, brokenness, and grief (some were inspired by visiting her dying mother in hospital). They go beyond melancholy to reveal the profound interior drama these emotions render as they impact the bereft. Björklund plays steel, acoustic, and electric guitars. John Parish produced the set. The ensemble includes him on additional guitar, Calexico drummer John Convertino, Portishead bassist Jim Barr, cellist Barb Hunter, and organist Dan Hemmer. The landscape of the Sonoran Desert looms large in the sound here, much as it did on her debut, Coming Home, but not as an imposing presence. Rather, it's a supportive, enveloping backdrop for the emotions on display. "Dark Side of the Heart" features slow processional drumming, a lonesome cello, a strummed acoustic guitar, and a droning bassline, appended by a gusting chorus of wordless vocals; it feels like a movie's opening credits theme. On "Walking," Björklund's narrative is delivered in a wispy contralto, just above acoustic guitar and bass. It's a country love song about the heart's difficulty in waiting for what it knows it can't have. A B-3 joins the pedal steel, underscoring every sung phrase. "Bottom of the Well" is a personal anthem for one who, though lost, refuses to surrender: "..."I'm a coward who wants to yell/I'm a warrior who lost the war, but still I want to fight...." Her distorted pedal steel pairs beautifully with Convertino's brushed skittering snare and Hunter's cello. Lambchop's Kurt Wagner duets on "Fro Fro Heart," a devastating ballad worthy of the Tindersticks. The instrumental "The Unlucky" is almost a suite. Its airy and breezy waltz theme is tinged with longing before a stark electric guitar -- à la Ennio Morricone -- erupts during the bridge; adding tension and turbulence, it is eventually appeased when the theme returns. "Missing at Sea," another instrumental, weds reverb-laden electric and pedal steel guitars that engage in a tremulous conversation propelled by the rhythm section. "Teach Me How to Say Goodbye" is a desperate plea for assistance in facing the inevitable, but the protagonist knows she's asking in an empty room. Acoustic guitar, cello, and pedal steel propel the vocal lines as the rhythm section plays in waltz time as if from far away. Despite its title and content, Shaken is more focused and confident than Coming Home. By alternating songs with instrumental compositions, Björklund delivers a texturally rich and emotionally powerful portrait. She knows not only of what she sings and plays but to whom. There is just enough space -- and ambiguity -- in them for the listener to fully enter and inhabit.