Multi-instrumentalist Janne Viksten’s follow-up to his well-received first solo album Blue Harbor makes clear why he’s a popular performer in his native Finland and a frequent on-stage guest of well-known American bluegrassers touring his part of Europe.
The title-track is a galloping instrumental that’s hard-driving and lonesome, right from the mandolin kickoff. Janne is not only a formidable picker, he’s just plain enjoyable to hear. He plays everything, and very well indeed—banjo, mandolin, guitar (lead and rhythm), and bass. Also, the mandola is notably featured on “Johanna’s Waltz,” an elegant tribute to his wife. (Other family members have inspired beautiful compositions on this CD as well.)
The rich variety of styles—bluegrass, old-time, folk music (both American and Finnish), and Celtic—deserves praise. And, it all blends wonderfully. Not one track seems jarring or out of place. Janne knows when to follow a full, overdubbed bluegrass band track with just a solo guitar (as on “New Roads”) or banjo (“The Light Goes Early”). For such a multi-instrumentalist to opt for tasteful simplicity at the right moments is true artistry.
The emphasis is on Viksten originals. One standout is “Happy Boy Blues,” Janne’s self-described attempt “to write the straightest bluegrass banjo tune possible.” To my ears, he succeeded. This one could have come from a classic Rural Rhythm or County LP from the 1960s. But he draws from other sources for several vocals; a heartfelt rendition of the traditional song “Chilly Winds” (sung by Vesa Vartiainen), plus beautiful adaptions of singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega’s “Some Journey” (vocal by Elisa Laiho), and “There’s A Rugged Road” by Judee Sill (vocal and fiddle by Ninni Poijärvi).
Viksten is also a skilled producer and engineer, talents that well serve this expertly recorded and mixed production. And he’s also a dedicated mountain biker, a pastime that inspired the instrumentals “Just Roll With It” and “Old Trails,” as well as the CD’s cover art. He’s definitely on a roll, and I’m looking forward to what he cycles up next. (Hilland Records, Fleminginkatu 20 A 4, 00510 Hki, Finland, www.hillandrecords.com.)RDS