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Echoes From The Mountain
Echoes From The Mountain
Price: £20.87

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Echoes From The Mountain, 12 Feb 2011
Looking around on the internet there is surprisingly little to read about this release, so I'll begin by saying that Echoes From The Mountain is a collection of specially recorded cover-versions of songs originally released on the alternative folk label Village Thing, who were active from 1970 to 1974. The collection focuses in on nine of their artists, there are three songs originally composed by Steve Tilston and Wizz Jones, two by Dave Evans and Al Jones, and one each by Hunt & Turner, Ian A Anderson, Sun Also Rises, Chris Thompson and Derroll Adams. Unfortunatly the digipack provides no information beyond bare bones credits, which seems a missed opportunity to spread the word about the original Village Thing releases and their importance to the featured artists, which is a bit of a shame, so as a listener I am not a lot wiser about the source material, for owning the cd. A Village Thing page at Myspace is brief but informative, and includes a complete discography for the label, which was helpful.

I was attracted to this release primarily because there are a number of artists present that I like, but also because I was curious about Village Thing - who are being described as a legendary psych-folk label from days of yore. I know three or four of their artists' names, but had only heard one song by Al Jones before purchasing this, and I still have no idea how legendary they really are or were, or how vital or revered was their presence in the early 70s, it's a bit of a hazy area.

This haziness extends onto the cd collection itself, which has an overall laid-back and relaxed feel. Oftentimes images of misty meadows and dewy vegetation come to mind, the various artists happily nestled down and singing almost to themselves, in contemplative reverie. At times the temptation is to doze off by the bole of a tree in this meadow. Several of the artists have played on the haunting psychedelic angle quite strongly, occasionally utilizing drones, subtle electronics or found sounds, turning in dreamy, moody performances, (Starless & Bible Black being a case in point, when they open the cd with "Silver Lady") while others give stripped back renditions, a singer and a guitar, adding to the intimate quality. Katie Rose sings prettily on one of the highlights, her voice swooping and arcing through the stillness with minimal accompaniment on "Grey Lady Morning". The Owl Service provide a really nice, undulating and catchy "Time Is Ripe". Adam Leonard's "See How The Time Is Flying" is appropriately sparse and resigned, whilst The Straw Bear Band give a touching "Song Of Wandering Aengus" with some noteable guitar playing. My favourite track is Pamela Wyn Shannon's "Love Song", simply a delight, of all the tracks on the collection the one that gives me the most need to track down the works of the composer.

Three veteran singers join the ranks of the younger musicians, Mark Fry sings with The A. Lords, whilst Village Thing artists Wizz Jones and Steve Tilston get a song each, and choose to cover one of each other's songs. Curiously, these latter two are amongst a small number that I'm not really getting into, though it's probably just a matter of taste, I'm sure fans of theirs will be delighted, and their presence makes for a nice completion of the circle.

I understand that all participating artists hold various Village Thing albums in high esteem, hence their being here, so I trust from that alone that the psych-folk moniker is an appropriate fit, at least for several Village Thing artists, though "singer-songwriter" better describes others. Whilst I know it is too much to ask, with these songs being so obscure it would have been really good if the original versions could have been released on a companion cd, making it a two cd set. Having the originals to add context would have been very illuminating. I come away from listening to this album with the sense that I have been offered but the briefest glimpse of Village Thing, leaving me with more questions than answers, but perhaps more importantly I am enjoying the majority of the songs on the cd itself.


The Burn Comes Down
The Burn Comes Down

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Burn Comes Down, 9 Feb 2011
This review is from: The Burn Comes Down (Audio CD)
The Burn Comes Down is a very generous ep of mostly traditional songs bound together by the common thread of winter. Performing in a classic English folk-rock style, The Owl Service sound as if they must be regular visitors to 1970.

Guest singer Alison O'Donnell of the revered Mellow Candle is the first person we hear, setting the mood with a chilly fragment of January Snows. This piece is followed by a lovely rendition of Drive The Cold Winter Away, that is bound to become a favourite in our household, whilst the third track is sung by second guest singer Roshi Nasehi. Most of the performances have a very soft-focus quality about them, this mellowness is nice though sometimes perhaps a little safe, where a hint of eeriness or coarseness might have improved things. Dominic Cooper provides contrast via a hearty a-capella rendering of The Bitter Withy, giving the collection its most gnarled performance, and it's a good one, Dominic's distinctive nasal tones reminding us of the raw winter night outside. I am familiar with Mike Waterson's excellent rendition too, which has shaped my appreciation of the song itself, but I can see this new version wowwing folks who are hearing this version first, and judging all others from this first point. Fans of Dominic's performance would do well to hunt down his other band, The Straw Bear Band, and its very fine alt-folk-tronica concept album From The Sea To The Stars.

The band sound very faithful to classic English folk-rock, almost to the point of being a pure re-enactment of that halcyon time, the palette of instruments is varied but stays within the scope of what was to the fore back then (there's a respectful nod to Pentangle in the use of sitar here and there). It is actually the inclusion of some unusual and inventive arrangements, seeing songs taking unexpected turns, that provide some distinction, as on the quite wonderful, shapeshifting progression of Winter (A Dirge). Elsewhere early Steeleye Span come to mind, especially on the jaunty Cold And Raw.

Circulus and Espers are my favourite of the current bands evoking the spirit of classic folk-rock. To me, at their best, they possess an illusive quality of strangeness and magic that is intrinsic to what makes the music of forebears like Trees and Incredible String Band so special. The Owl Service are verging on that place too.


Koder Pa Snor
Koder Pa Snor
Price: £10.88

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blistering Nordic folk-electronica fusion., 2 Feb 2011
This review is from: Koder Pa Snor (Audio CD)
Valravn are a Danish group with a singer from the Faroes, this is their second album, but my first point of contact. They have a grounding in both early music and contemporary electronica, and play a tantalizing array of instruments including viola, hurdy-gurdy, lyre, mandola, nyckelharpa, harmonium, hammered dulcimer, percussion and flutes, together with electronics and beats, and some really spectacular vocals, creating a heady, irresistable spectacle, unpredictable, audacious and gorgeous.

Reviewers elsewhere have supposed that fellow Danes Sorten Muld are a key influence on Valravn's sound, and whilst I can see why they say that, it wasn't my first thought. To me I hear Vedergallningen-era Garmarna, Hedningarna (listen to the rough-hewn scrawlings of the hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa keeping pace with pounding percussion on such tracks as Kroppar and Lysabild) and Mari Boine more clearly, whilst the scraping and tinkling electronics echo some of Bjork's soundscapes. But they also step off of the map into epic unknown spaces, as when they are joined by the Mpiri choir on the closing track, taking flight into the eye of a hurricane.

Anna Katrin Egilstrod sings very expressively, her voice easily exploring delicate nuances or powering upwards to swirling heady heights, her voice going where her imagination wishes. Frequently she brings to mind Bjork, who is clearly a major influence. Some listeners might find the similarities too distracting, I'm too busy enjoying it! Back in the mid-90's, after listening to Bjork providing graceful voice to Visur Vatnsenda Rosu on Hector Zazou's Songs From The Cold Seas, I found myself wishing she'd dally in the folk-electronica idiom for longer, and listening to Valravn it seems somebody was listening to my thoughts, because the combination of such extravagent and whimsical vocals with the tones of ancient instruments is such an excellent fit.

The digipack complements the album handsomely, with a lavish booklet with sumptuous illustrations that seem to perfectly capture the vision of this band, depicting the various members in shadowed landscapes peopled by crows and references to flight in nature and attempts to mimic it. Lyrics are provided in Danish and English.It is fascinating just how slight the gap between the two languages is at times, and a wonder that we don't hear the similarities more readily - when she repeatedly demands "statt upp og dansa" ["stand up and dance"] on the wonderful Kelling, there should be no mistaking what she is saying, the language gap seemingly having evaporated).

If Koder Pa Snor was my first introduction to Scandinavian roots-fusion, or an early example, it would likely become the standard by which I judged all others, they get so many things right with this album. For me, albums like Tra, Leahkastin and Vittrad filled that place, but I think this album is brilliant, and I am sure it is luring an enthusiastic new audience in! Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 20, 2012 8:42 PM BST


Excuses For Travellers
Excuses For Travellers
Price: £10.71

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excuses, excuses..., 18 Jan 2011
This review is from: Excuses For Travellers (Audio CD)
I adore Mojave 3's first album, but my enthusiasm was severely dampened by the follow-up, and as a result I didn't get hold of their third until chancing upon it in a thrift store last year. It wasn't that Out Of Tune was poor, more that they were moving away from the shimmering magic that I found so compelling on Ask Me Tomorrow, in favour of a rather well-beaten track to the dusty heart of a mythical America.

Excuses For Travellers is a curious one, upon the first few listens it seemed to be living in the exact same space as Out Of Tune, adding little if anything artistically to what has been said before, to the point where large swathes of it seemed a bit un-necessary. However, it didn't take long to fall head over heels for the gorgeous opening track, "In Love With A View", which I feel I cannot live without, whilst other blissful highlights such as "My Life In Art" also have me ensnared. Rachel Goswell's gentle vocal on "She Broke You So Softly", meanwhile, is a perfect example of the symbiosis of hers and Neil's voices, of how good that sounds.

At the same time I have niggling concerns, that I can't overlook, so the journey through the album can become a conflict of feelings (and here I fear I might disrupt the general expressions of admiration as described by all other reviewers here to date, but know that I respect their points of view and have felt similarly towards "Ask Me Tomorrow"). Firstly I'm a little distracted by just how close Neil Halstead is prepared to tread to his sources of inspiration, "Trying To Reach You" for example sounds distinctly like it's going to be a cover of Neil Young's "Lotta Love" until the vocals kick in, but even then "Lotta Love" lingers in the background like a ghost. I also feel we are travelling in the slipstream of folks like Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. At my most cynical I start to wonder whether Mojave 3 have anything in their repertoir that isn't assembled from a kit, I've started to suspect that the songs that sound the most original to my ears might just be close copies of songs I've never heard. Should this matter? Perhaps it shouldn't.

The feeling of deja-vu also extends to their own back-catalogue, practically every track has something about it, a turn of phrase or a musical motif, that nearly duplicates something previously tried on the first or second albums, for instance "She Broke You So Softly" seems to contain fragments of "Where Is The Love", whilst a verse from "Return To Sender" harks back to "Yer Feet".

Nevertheless, when I'm happy, I'm very happy, Mojave 3 create such an inviting, luxuriant place of calm and some truly beautiful music.


New Moon
New Moon
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars New Moon review, 7 Dec 2010
This review is from: New Moon (Audio CD)
This is one of my favourite albums from the Realworld label, Algerian musician Abdelli sings and plays mandola, and the tunes are tastefully expanded upon by a host of musicians from South America, Ukraine and North Africa. The diverse roots of the musicians initially surprises and perhaps looks unlikely on paper, but take a listen to New Moon and take joy in just how organic and beautiful this album is.

The album opens with the lovely Adarghal Introduction, the only piece upon which Abdelli performs alone, it is followed by the gorgeous swirl of Adarghal, the same song bursting into colour and movement, its seductive tune bounding away with you. An early favourite for me was Achaah, at 7 minutes the longest piece, with gorgeous intricate violin ebbing and flowing over a dusty backdrop of clattering and rumbling percussion, before Abdelli steps forth with his parched voice and weaves in his alluring mandola, the effect is irresistable. Elsewhere flutes, charango, bandoura and many other instruments add a wealth of textures to a vibrant array of songs.

Peter Gabriel's album Passion was the catalyst that got me really started exploring the rich musical heritage of the world, and as a result I kept a close eye on developments at Realworld Records during the 90's, hence discovering this gem. Sections of this album share some common ground with Passion, and it isn't far removed at times from Rumba Argelina by Radio Tarifa, or parts of Khaled by Khaled.

As usual with Realworld, the packaging is very handsome, and the liner notes do a good job of setting the scene and bridging the language gap with a brief passage describing each song.


The Friends Of Mr Cairo
The Friends Of Mr Cairo
Price: £7.77

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A friend of The Friends, 1 Dec 2010
This review is from: The Friends Of Mr Cairo (Audio CD)
A friend of mine introduced me to this album over 20 years ago, it was one of the brightest things that came out of a truly lousy year studying horticulture. Listening to this album it was almost as if it were a glowing fire in a cold place and I was there for it's warmth. This album has a flawless beauty and getting lost amongst its songs to this day is for me a moving experience (as long as I program out the hokey Back To School Boogie before pressing play).

I listen to a wide range of musical styles but there is still a place for this unashamedly sentimental work amongst the more abrasive and earthbound fair that surrounds this album in my collection. These songs are like little spheres, worlds within themselves, and we peer in wide-eyed and listen to tales of high adventure, and the experience is uplifting and a bit New-Agey (as can be expected with Jon Anderson, I suppose).

The cinematic title track is the album's centrepiece, and I always find myself hanging on to every note and turn in the story, not wanting to miss the moments of profoundness that appear but the once and then are gone. To call it the centrepiece isn't meant in any way to diminish from the other tracks (aside from Back To School Boogie - what on earth were they thinking?), the hit single I'll Find My Way Home is a classic, and the rest are all of equally high order. To my thinking only a handful of their other songs really can be considered of the same order - I Hear You Now; Play Within A Play; He Is Sailing and two or three others.

To me, The Friends Of Mr Cairo is easily the finest of Jon and Vangelis' four albums: the ambitious and prickly Short Stories is also very good, if a little inconcistent in quality; Private Collection is rather too soppy and over-burdened with passages of quasi-religious ecstasy; on Page Of Life Jon's singing was reedy and weedy, whilst much of the album is so many rose-petals drowning in syrup.

Friends Of Mr Cairo gets things right, some fantastic music, a good sense of space, and drama and sentimentalism held in balance, bringing out the very best in Jon and Vangelis's creative partnership. If their albums were actually one structure carved out of ice, Short Stories would be the rough-hewn stage, Friends is the finished work and the remaining two are the same structure at stages of decay in the warm sun.

But I wouldn't blame a person new to this album for being bemused at all the fuss and praise, it seems very much an album of a different time, or a time that never really existed, perhaps too fragile for nowadays.


Anthology: An Evening With/Dando Shaft/Lantaloon
Anthology: An Evening With/Dando Shaft/Lantaloon

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dando Shaft Anthology Review, 4 Oct 2010
Coming Home To Me, the gorgeous opener track on Dando Shaft's second album, was the first thing I heard by them, on the Early Morning Hush compilation, and this quite glorious song was enough to encourage me to look out for more. At the time I'd not heard of them and I am not entirely sure why they (apparently) vanished so completely from the radar for so many years, but that was the fate of many of Britain's acid-folk and folk-rock pioneers, so they were in good company during their stay in oblivion.

Anthology compiles Dando Shaft's first three albums, that originally saw the light of day in 1970, 1971 and 1972 respestively, along with half a dozen rarities. The band went on to release a fourth album later in the decade.

The first eight tracks, that make up An Evening With Dando Shaft, have slightly rough-hewn production, but rather than detract from the experience, this actually makes the set sound like precious archeological artifacts freshly unearthed. The lead singer has a dark and lithe voice, on September Wine he sounds not unlike Martin Carthy. I'm particularly fond of the opening three songs, and End Of the Game later on is also very nice.

Dando Shaft, the second album, is the closest they get to creating a classic album, an album endowed with many a strong strong, but overall I think it falls just short. Here we first hear new member Polly Bolton, singing with a clear and agile voice, adding favourably to the band's sound, particularly on the lovely Riverboat. Songs range from fleet-footed barnstormers to gentle wistful pieces, with a defined bias towards infectiously upbeat songs, such as the deleriously joyous Kaliope Driver and Waves Upon The Ether, where Celtic elements intertwine with Balkan flavours. After the heady heights early on, the latter part of this album seems to fizzle out, the instrumental Dewet, while no doubt a technical marvel, seems quite pointless to me. Most of the later tracks are also rather too short, adding to the impression that the set is slipping away between our fingers, not to mention giving the sense that perhaps some of these pieces should have been further developed into more substantial songs that could have given the album a more sustained heft.

Disc two begins with a set from a radio session. Spring Clog Dance (later released as a single retitled Sun Clog Dance and also featured here) unfortunatly does the band no favours, with a half-baked lyric and something of a (presumably unintentionally parodic) country-bumpkin vibe. The instrumental Thruxton Flute is nice, whilst things get curiouser and curioser with Don't Forget The Animal.

Lantaloon gets off to a rousing start with Car Song, powering along with typical exuberance, the singer reminding me here of Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. This album seems a little weaker than the second, but there are some great tracks here too, I particularly like Is It Me?, The Harp Lady I Bombed, and I Heard Somewhere, but there is a niggling concern elsewhere that quality control was at a lower setting, or else their edge was blunted because they were having so much fun! Their carefree attitude perhaps works both for and against them, in a sense.

The sleeve design on this collection is not what it should be, sadly, from the dubious design of the front cover to the bland layout and a hazey print-job which makes reading the informative essay a slightly unpleasant exercise. Meanwhile, the design of the tray insert is a complete mess and I have to wonder what was going on at Cherry Red Records that day, for this to get approved. This shabby effort does the band no justice, they deserve good packaging!

Overall I find this collection very good, but inconcistent. There are spells when things go off the boil, and sometimes there's some rather bland lyrics, and dubious twee excursions, but at their best, when performing as a tight and focused unit, Dando Shaft were pretty thrilling.


JIM MORAY
JIM MORAY
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £9.27

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Making folk relevant?, 24 Sep 2010
This review is from: JIM MORAY (Audio CD)
Jim Moray is an ambitious guy, with lots of ideas and the guts to give those ideas flight, and this is what I like about him best of all. Most of what I have read about him has been luminous, but most of what I have heard has, for me, fallen short of the praise, but I respect him, and appreciate that his musical vision works for a fair few people.

My favourite track is Lord Willoughby, an audacious piece with Jim's voice flying along at a pace atop a flood of strings and brass, that reminds me a little of Marc Almond on one of his flights of fancy, it runs a knife-edge path above perilous drops into dis-belief, but it holds true to the course. Dog And Gun is the second of three pieces I have taken to, this time in more of a rock vein, and Night-Visiting completes the hat-trick, with a gorgeous delicate piano line and building atmosphere that suits Jim's singing nicely, though it does get a little sweet as it unfolds. Aside from these three I am lost, I'm hearing classic folk-songs being paraded around in syrupy radio-friendly pop guise, with their grainy, haunting, weather-beaten real-ness airbrushed out. Whilst this treatment might make them palatable for a wider audience, and might even bridge the gap from raw antiquity to the 21st Century, making old songs relevent again for some, I feel it divorces them from their crucial essence, where other musicians, attempting similar feats, have successfully retained that essence.

Fair And Tender Lovers sounds like some mid 80's soft rock fantasy out of the USA, I can't help but picture the suitably cheesy video that would have accompanied it up the Top 40, with Jim transformed by long luscious curly permed hair and a pastel yellow suit with sleeves ending at the elbow... Who's The Fool? draws on Coldplay for inspiration, whilst the album closes with an original composition that sounds like something from Broadway, and I can't abide it.

Experimentation, fusion of styles, thinking outside the box, all are great, and I can appreciate what Jim is getting at. It is good that his work is proving revelatory for many people, but it's not completely working for me, most of the traditional songs appear sugar-coated and removed from their roots, and I feel there's an overall "cleanliness" to this album that seems problematic to me. But I see I'm in the minority here...


Ark
Ark
Price: £15.08

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ark review, 2 Sep 2010
This review is from: Ark (Audio CD)
Brendan is in fine voice on this his first album of new material in over a decade, a suite of dark portraits of the state of the world at this time in history, and moments of bleak introspection that mirror the outer world.

Brendan has incorporated eastern phrasing and motifs throughout the album, along with eerily reverberating brass and sharp, dislocated pizzicato strings, harking back to earlier works with DCD, but here married to pure shimmering electronica and occasional trip-hop beats.

The opening and closing tracks on Ark were performed in slightly different versions on Dead Can Dance's 2005 tour, and these then brand-new compositions were firm highlights of the show, elegant and mysterious. I was eager to hear studio versions of them but actually I find them a little wooden, though the vocals on Crescent are very nice.

Utopia has rightly been receiving a lot of praise, it is one of the stand-out tracks, and likely to become a firm fixture on any future tour, not to mention my stereo.

The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea is my favourite track, to my thinking the most effective use of the electronica medium here, a soundscape that is at once chilling and comforting, a perfectly balanced vision, full of drama and space. And when Brendan wails "forever!" he sounds like Ian McCulloch!

I have been a big fan of Dead Can Dance since the early 90's, but whilst my praise is warmly meant, I am not completely smitten with Ark. Firstly, Brendan made a specific artistic decision to work alone and use libraries of samples rather than actual instruments, and this choice for me casts a subtle shadow over the work as a whole, and a sense of claustrophobia. The compositions themselves are beautifully ornate and the performances are honed to a kind of perfection, yet they feel stifled, like they should be alive, and they are crying out for a living ensemble to breathe life into them. Secondly, lyrically, after writing some beautiful, profound poetry in years gone by, this time the words are occasionally a bit ordinary. I am reminded of Leonard Cohen, who as a younger man wrote gorgeous, eloquent poetry and later on got a bit awkward and plain. The subject-matter also grates at times, and there are a couple of tracks that I'm already skipping. Thirdly, whilst not a criticism of individual songs, as a whole the album would have benefited from a more varied pace from song to song.

But, you know, it is great to have this new album, and Brendan's voice is simply fantastic, I remember being struck by how good he sounded in 2005, and here there seem to be further levels of depth than even then.


Oi Dai
Oi Dai
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £24.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Fearsome!, 10 Jun 2010
This review is from: Oi Dai (Audio CD)
This was the first album I ever bought in cd format, and this was before I owned a cd player, in 1992, keen as I was to hear more from this band after listening to a show on the radio about the new wave of Scandinavian roots bands.

Listening to Oi Dai might be likened to running naked from the sauna to a frigid Finnish lake, with swarms of biting insects in hot pursuit, and then jumping into said waters. It might not be for everyone.

Oi Dai is a fast and furious thing, with five female vocalists belting out folksongs with a nimble acoustic backing band. This combination in itself was a bold step for a Finnish folk-band in those days, where the orthodox opinion was that women should sing unaccompanied. The album, in the context of the other roots-based music I was then listening to, was a revelation, a blistering, cobweb-erradicating stampede into the Finnish hinterlands. The opening track sounds innocent enough, nice harmonies, slightly goofy, even perhaps a hint of sweetness in the delivery, but a read of the translated lyric reveals that the girls are actually spitting bile, dismissing the village boys (whose mouths they liken to the entrances to pigsties), and toying with the idea of cutting out the tongues of the local old ladies and filling their mouths with hot tin. So much for track one, then...

The album bounds along and is over before you know it, but along the way we get soundly battered by relentless yet fantastic, searing singing and vibrant instrumentation that twists and turns and incites bouts of ill-advised "dancing" (when nobody is looking): fiddle, accordian, woodwinds, guitar, sprightly double-bass and clattering percussion conspire to intoxicate the listener. Miinan Laulu is a delightful call and response piece, this time with no weapons brandished or harm intended, but simmering with lust. It has catchy accordian and fiddle-led instrumental passages slightly reminiscent of klezmer music. Kiiriminna is similarly joyous, I recall back in the day we replaced the lyric with what we deemed an appropriate English lyric - of course we were well off the mark of what was really going on, but it was a fun thing to do... Elsewhere, as on the gorgeous title track and the melancholy closing number, Varttina slow the pace right down for some very graceful moments that might prove to be the first tracks that appeal to listeners unhappy at being caught out in the open by the rest of the album.

The language barrier should not be seen as an impediment to enjoying this album, the songs are extremely catchy and I sing along to passages in blithe ignorance of what I might be conveying to any Finn that might be within earshot. And after a listen, even now, it's as if I'd walked through a thicket and come out the other side with all sorts of burs and twigs ensnared in my clothing, each one an irresistable Finnish folksong.


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