If there’s a stringed instrument that Stenin Urheim can’t play and play well I’d like to know what it is. However that’s not a reason to listen to his third release on the excellent Hubro label, unless of course you enjoy hearing different stringed instruments that are very well played and recorded. The best reason is that Strandebarm is full of uplifting tunes and compositions that just happen to be played on guitars, banjo, flute, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, mandolin, pocket cornet, Turkish tanbur and modular synth among other instruments. There are even some vocals evident on a few of the seven tunes but they are not a major factor, that said the lyrics on ‘Oh So Nice’ are by Kurt Vonnegut so they are worth listening to, which isn’t always the case
Urheim’s style owes a little bit to Ry Cooder’s Paris, Texas soundtrack inasmuch as slide playing often does and I’m sure Ry got his inspiration from other musicians. Urheim credits a wide range of influences including Lightning Hopkins, Jon Hassel, Ornette Coleman, Chinese guqin, Lou Harrison and the “motion picture paintings of Andrie Tarkovsky” among many others. Such a melange of sources could create chaos but Strandebarm is melodic, multi-layered and inspiring. It creates a fabulous ambiance but also warrants your attention, there is plenty to listen to but none of it is shouting for attention. Strandebarm was recorded in the church of the Norwegian town of the same name, a space chosen because of its acoustics, which are undoubtedly part of this album’s appeal, that and the fine recording work done by Audun Strype. It’s rare to hear natural reverb on recordings of contemporary music, that is what Urheim makes of course yet it is very much his own creation. You can hear where some ideas may have come from but the whole collage is unique. Occasionally it lapses into conventional forms, the last tune ‘Berlin’ Blues being the only occasion really and even then the acoustic guitar blues is slowly interwoven with other instruments and slides into ragtime.