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Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola - Widdershins (Dell Daisy Records)
You get the distinct feeling, with Sarah-Jane Summers and Juhani Silvola's latest outing WIDDERSHINS, that you're in earshot of a fascinatingly impassioned conversation. And there's no need to eavesdrop; on the contrary, the tête-à-tête is going on right under your nose, brazen as can be, without ever concealing itself behind closed fingers and breathy whispers. Sarah-Jane's fiddle, a sprightly, female voice, leaps and dives over the surface of Juhani's deep and sagacious acoustic guitar, the two often intertwining for moments of delicate respect and glistening, limpid kinship. And both voices are articulated with tongues of solid silver; Juhani moves crisply from chord to chord, note to note whilst Sarah-Jane manages to retain all the seductive expression of heartfelt Scottish and Norwegian folk music whilst reaching the speckless agility of a world class symphony violinist. Sarah-Jane Summers is, of course, a member of Scottish quartet Rant and the founder of Norwegian-Scottish outfit Fribo as well as a well-respected music teacher, whilst Juhani Silvola is one of Norway's foremost musicians, composers and producers.
Just like it says on the tin, WIDDERSHINS is an album that goes against the grain, constantly pressing against the boundaries to reach moments of genuinely fearless ambition. So whilst Silver Spring Wheel may well be a jaunty little tune on anyone else's album, on WIDDERSHINS it becomes a mesmeric, flickering dance that, towards its final bars, melts into a barely audible flutter of plucks. Similarly, on Vaajakosken Maija, a delightfully tranquil tune rolls towards a truly haunting conclusion, courtesy of Sarah-Jane's mournful, weeping fiddle. The album culminates in a fiery exchange with Spike on a Bike, a tune that puts so much demand on both guitarist and fiddler that you're left with little else to do than to hold your breath. With its exhilarating pounding of both fingerboard and fretboard, this album closes on its knees, begging to be played again and, quite possibly, again.