JANNE WESTERLUND - Marshland
A little over two years after his solo debut Oran, Finnish artist Janne Westerlund is back with his second effort Marshland. Best known as a member of psychedelic rock band Circle, which he joined in the early days of the millennium, Janne Westerlund is also quite busy with his bands Pharaoh Overlord and Plain Ride. Hardly into his early Forties, he has already been featured on about 50 records, which is quite an impressive number.
Unlike the instrumental extravaganza you often encounter on his band albums, Janne Westerlunds solo body of work is much more discreet and subtle. He may sing and play lots of instruments (guitar, banjo, dulcimer, bass guitar, raj„o, recorder, harmonica, keyboards and percussion), but takes care to never allow to many instruments to sound off at once. The major contributions come from acoustic guitar and banjo, with the dulcimer adding some nice textures on some tracks. All of this gives the album a very Americana sound, although not a modern one, but rather going back to the really olden days of the pioneer days of the Old West.
The album’s opener It Takes A Strong Jesus To Carry Me Home feels kind of ironic, but still sets the mood for a very laid back sounding album. The acoustic guitar plays a simple melody over which Janne Westerlund lays his gravelly vocals that feel like proof of a very active rock’n’roll lifestyle. Very discreet percussion, hidden in the background, is the only addition to this sparse masterpiece. Strangers Row is another very American sounding track, this time substituting the guitar for the banjo which the artist is quite adept at. It’s only with the third track Treetops where the psychedelic background is creeping in. Even though this is another acoustic tracks, the multi-layered vocals add a very hypnotic atmosphere, perfectly fitting the poetic nature of the lyrics. The following Tar, at hardly over two minutes the album’s shortest piece, is an extremely naked banjo number that should be a failure due to its overly minimal approach, but the intimate production and the honest vocal performance turn this into a perfect piece of soul striptease. Long Tall Grass is a guitar track which offers some of the rare dulcimer moments that elevate to song to yet another level.
My favourite moment on the album is the nearly nine minute long title track, which despite its generous length only features two lines of text: I’m alive. Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless. Once again this is a song that would have been a boring exercise in self-indulgence in the hands of a lesser artist, but Janne Westerlung adds layer upon layer of acoustic sounds, and did I hear even some slow electric guitar? All of this turns Marshland into a trippy piece of psychedelia that stands out among the otherwise still great songs of the album.
Marshland is once again a superb solo effort by Janne Westerlund. It is futile to discuss which of his many endeavours is the most worthwhile. Circle are certainly the most popular band he is playing in, but their body of work is frankly hard to oversee after all these years, while this is only his second solo album, giving the impression that straightforward songwriting is an important factor here, even though there are still some elements of improvisation to keep the whole affair fresh and interesting. Usually I am not too much into acoustic solo album stuff, but Janne Westerlund is the pleasant exception who proves that even sparse music can have a whole lot of entertainment value.