BUBE DAME KÖNIG
CPI Music 005
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Ich spreche kein Deutsch. I speak so little that I had to look up how to say, "I don't speak German," just as I had to use translation software to discover that the album title means "Pleasant Land," and that the band is curiously named "Knave Lady King." (The name is probably inspired by the German translation of the 1998 Guy Ritchie card sharp film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but the band's website won't help much–about which, more in a moment.) Mysteries aside, I knew right away that much of the trio's the sound was as Irish and Swedish as German. This trio is so fond of old tales and musical traditions that is has worked with University of Leipzig poet Thomas Kolitisch, who has rewritten old lyrics–many of them Child ballads–so that the band could set them to new tunes that sound old. Now that's devotion! Some might naturally wonder about the project. Both Irish and Swedish music are alive and thriving. Isn't this akin to a tribute band paying homage to an artist who is still touring? And why buy an album in a language one doesn't speak?
The second objection is easily overcome–most North Americans don't speak Gaelic or Swedish either, so who cares if the song comes at us in German? As for the first, shouldn't the only standard be whether the music is done well? Make no mistake–Bube Dame König plays Irish- and Scandinavian-influenced music very well indeed. The trio consists of vocalist/flautist Juliane Weinelt; fiddler and hurdy-gurdy artist Till Uhlmann; and guitarist/fiddler/vocalist Jan Oelmann. Weinelt's vocals are quite reminiscent of those of Altan's Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh—clear, lovely, and fragile at one moment and muscular the next. Uhlmann's hurdy-gurdy is especially effective in setting danceable tempos, some of which evoke Breton music, and Oelmann runs Germany's only school for Irish traditional music and dance and knows his way around each. To get a sense of how Bube Dame König handles Irish music check out "Ebereschenbaum," a jaunty little ditty that highlights the time Weinelt put in with the Irish band Dizzy Spell. For a dose of Scandinavia try "Schnitter Tod," which is filled with ominous tones and evokes the industrial folk rock of early Garmarna. And, yes, there are some German folk songs as well, including the Lower Rhineland song "Kein Schöner Land" and "Wenn Alle Brünnlein Fliessen," which hails from 16the century Swabia. The mix of dark and light–a band staple–is very much in evidence on "Abschied," a parting song with the feel of an innocent wandering into a potentially foreboding wilderness. I wish I could tell you more about how many liberties the band has taken with old texts but, alas, the CD's tracks do not match well with those listed on their Website. The translations are better than my German–but not by much in some cases! But the feel and sound of this excellent CD need no translation. –Rob Weir
Try this YouTube clip to catch the band in a Swedish/German groove.