Exquisite album of outstanding song-writing and perfectly restrained duets.
You come across some strange combinations as a reviewer, especially in the country and Americana genre. Over the years, this writer discovered quite a lot about both Maltese country music and Aboriginal country (the latter’s actually fantastic.) Olav Larsen is another in that lineage of unusual back stories as a Norwegian of Nigerian descent raised in Stavenger on Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker from his dad’s blues collection before discovering Springsteen, Gram Parsons and Dylan. But this is no oddity; in fact ‘Stream Of Consciousness’ is superb.
Larsen writes songs that appear musically simple and direct, but lyrically the songs trip you up and misdirect the listener. The album is composed of nine duets with singers from the Norwegian Americana scene. The duet form allows for some interesting relationships to develop. Take the stunning ‘Give Up On Me’ with Benedicte Brænden where the protagonists encourage each other to give up on the love affair as “I don’t want to fight you any more”. About halfway through the music descends into chaos, possibly mimicking the chaotic state of the relationship. It makes a powerful statement.
Larsen’s voice has echoes of the gravelly quality of a Tom Waits, but on songs like ‘The Bottom’ he pushes it to greater expressiveness. In fact, ‘The Bottom’ is less of a duet and Camilla Rosenlund adds backing vocal harmonies that brings out the intensity in Larsen’s vocals.
It is the voices and the quality of the lyrical content that define this album. Musically the accompaniment is restrained and discrete, underlining and reinforcing the texture of the vocals as they tell the stories of these songs of lost love and the disappointment of crumbling relationships. ‘The Moral of this Story’, for instance, explores how relationships can simply end and Larsen and Mona Krogh’s vocals fade out to a liltingly plaintive fiddle. ‘Friendship’ explores the resilience of a relationship based on mutual ‘belief’ backed by simply strummed acoustic guitar, building to points of intensity with fiddle and piano.
Simply put, this album is a masterful demonstration of how quality songwriting can explore the complexities of relationships. It is the restraint and low-key beauty of songs like ‘Nobody Knows’ with Ingfrid Straumstøyl that makes this an outstanding album.