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Steinar Raknes - Stillhouse (Reckless Records)

Under the capable fingers of such luminaries as Charles Mingus, Danny Thompson and Esperanza Spalding, the double bass has become much more than a part of the rhythm section. On AH-UM, Mingus dragged the double bass to the forefront of thoughtful, spellbinding jazz. With Pentangle, Danny Thompson administered the injection that catapulted traditional English folk music into a new age of experimentation and musical fusion. Esperanza Spalding has recently been redefining the vocal jazz genre with her own bass-driven sounds.

Over in Norway, Urban Connection bassist, composer and songwriter Steinar Raknes has been lugging his double bass around the concert halls, promoting his unique, meditative, blues-infused bass/vocal style. Imagine, if you will, the love child of Danny Thompson and John Martyn - an inventive double bassist and husky-voiced folk singer whose style, coupled with a carefully-chosen repertoire, would sit comfortably in the jazz, blues, country and folk sections of your local record store, respectively.
STILLHOUSE - Raknes's latest outing - is, at once, a showcase of this unique artist's captivating, stripped-down style and a satisfying jaunt through Steinar's album collection. The majority of this atmospheric record presents a considered attempt to re-work some of the most sublime songs ever written, using Steinar's inventive bass/vocal style; attempts that have a favourable pay off every time. Take, for instance, the opening track, Rowland Salley's Killing the Blues, which, with the untreated sound of strings on wood, has never sounded as good. Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, John Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness, Gillian Welch's Tear The Stillhouse Down and Bruce Springsteen's I'm On Fire receive the same treatment, resulting in new definitions for each of these well-known, well-loved songs. There's also a stunning, foot-tapping version of the traditional blues song Corina Corina which hasn't sounded this fresh and beguiling since Bo Carter first recorded it in 1928.
Whilst the album clearly benefits from these fine re-imaginings, the highest peaks are reached during the handful of bluesy Raknes originals such as Down The Drain and Walkin - the first helped along by Mickey Raphael's harmonica and the latter by Andrew Utnem's harmonium.
With the added, though usually delightfully subtle support of vocalists Solveig Slettahjell, Kaia and Unni Wilhelmsen, as well as Paolo Vinaccia's percussion, STILLHOUSE is an album with a a soul as thick as its dusty, rustic atmosphere.

Liam Wilkinson
Northern Sky