Firstly, you must know that Maggie Björklund is an exponent of the pedal steel (guitar). Secondly, well, I’d like to tell you what a pedal steel guitar is, but I don’t really know what one looks like. What I do know from reading about her is that Björklund is a leader in her field, having worked with many "known" musicians including labelmate Exene Cervenka.
The album is a collection of instrumentals and songs, the latter featuring vocals from the Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Jon Auer (the Posies) and Rachel Flotard (Visqueen), in addition to those provided by Björklund herself. On top of those singers, the album benefits from the musicianship of a host of people, including members of Calexico along with some veterans of the Seattle music scene.
What you get from this album is a delightful collection of music that can relax and soothe the listener without providing any soporific effects. Be it the gruff yet smooth voice of Mark Lanegan, or the equally distinctive Jon Auer, the songs featuring these vocalists add a depth to the sound of the album. That’s not to say that both Rachel Flotard and Maggie Björklund’s voices aren't strong, but they manage to add lightness to the album to counter the male vocalists, almost a case of perfect harmony.
Opening with the entrancing “Wasteland”, the tone is set for an album that would be the perfect backdrop to an evening sat in an unlit room, in front of a roaring fire, a glass of red wine in hand and outside the snow piled up the door allowing no one in or out. The music is atmospheric to the point of many tracks being suitable for use in film soundtracks; images are conveyed purely by music at times, with no need for words to vocalise an opinion or view. The sound of the pedal steel is distinctive and when featured prominently is a wonderful instrument to listen to.
“Summer Romance” with Flotard (reminding me of the Welsh singer, Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia), sounding slightly strained at times and lending itself to providing a very small element of grit to the song, is a wonderful song, perhaps the catchiest on the album.
My favourite songs are “The Anchor Song” (with Rachel Flotard) and “Vildspor” (Jon Auer) although that is not to lessen the beauty of the other eight tracks, with the haunting “Coming Home” (Mark Lanegan) also making an impression. One thing I notice with “Frost” is that at times it sounds very much like “Anchors Aweigh”—not sure if I’m hearing things or if this is intentional...not a criticism, just an observation.
Hell, this isn't punk. There is no way on earth this could remotely be called punk. However, that is not a good enough reason to ignore something of exquisiteness, delivered in a manner that moves the listener to create images in their own mind to accompany the instrumentals or to let the warm songs wash over them as the bottle of red wine slowly empties. This intrigues me as the publicity material likens the music to a warmer climate, but I feel it’s better utilised to warm you when it’s cold outside. You might not appreciate this album now, but hopefully if your musical experiences widen, it will envelope you with its tenderness and draw you in to enjoy it as it did me.