Sweden has had an incredibly diverse music scene over the years. On one hand, that Scandinavian country is famous for sugary Euro-pop artists like Abba and Ace of Base. But on the other hand, Sweden is also famous for giving the world an abundance of avant-garde jazz, power metal and death metal. So Sweden certainly cannot be accused of being one-dimensional when it comes to music, and Malmö, Sweden-based singer/songwriter Lovisa Ståhl offers a fair amount of variety on her 2013 release, #2.
This album essentially falls into the adult alternative category; Ståhl, who wrote or co-wrote all 12 of the songs on this 47-minute CD, tends to appeal to fans of singer/songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, Joan Osborne and Suzanne Vega. “Never Meant to Miss You,” “Claustrophobia” and other songs on this disc would be right at home at Lilith Fair (the female-oriented music festival that McLachlan co-founded in 1996). But Ståhl is unpredictable, showing her appreciation of everything from folk-rock on “John,” “Daniel,” “Sabina,” “Something Better” and “Mother’s Arms” to jazz on “Mermaid Days” and blues on “Chasin’ the Sun.” Meanwhile, the opener “This Day” has an appealing bossa nova influence and is not unlike something Basia would do. And soul is a strong influence on the funky “Shining Star,” which shouldn’t be confused with either the funk classic that was a smash hit for Earth, Wind & Fire in 1975 or the northern soul/sweet soul ballad that was a major hit for the Manhattans (of “Kiss and Say Goodbye” fame) in 1980.
If “Shining Star” were released as a single and sent to urban contemporary stations in the United States, the program directors would probably think it was too pop or too adult alternative for their purposes. “Shining Star” isn’t hardcore soul, but more a combination of soul and adult alternative. The song is funky in a Tracy Chapman-ish way rather than funky in the way that Jill Scott, Beyoncé Knowles, Erykah Badu and Mary J. Blige are funky. Regardless, “Shining Star” has an infectious hook and an empowering message (stay strong, believe in yourself, stay true to your goals), and if Ståhl were asked to perform the tune as a duet with Chapman or another R&B-influenced folk-rock/adult alternative artist at a Lilith Fair event, it would fit right in.
“Sabina” is a gem of a folk-rock song, albeit a sad gem. The song (which would be perfect for triple-A/adult album alternative radio stations) is about a 17-year-old girl who is killed when she’s out horseback riding in the forest. “Sabina” vividly describes the grief of her parents, making it a real tearjerker. And Ståhl has no problem bringing the tragic tale to life in perfect English.
Although Swedish is the primary language in Sweden, English is widely spoken in that country. Fluency in English is aggressively encouraged in Sweden’s public school system, and it isn’t unusual for Swedish vocalists to perform in English exclusively (which is what Ståhl does on this album). And Ståhl’s high level of proficiency in English is evident. Her English-language lyrics are nuanced ad sophisticated in a way that they wouldn’t be were she not truly fluent in the language. In fact, the only song on this album that Ståhl did not write by herself is “This Day,” which she co-wrote with Brazilian songwriter João Pinaud. On top of doing all that writing, Ståhl co-produced #2 with her colleague Henrik Alsér. Ståhl and Alsér’s production is warm and inviting; the album sounds well-produced but never overproduced and never cold or mechanical.
From the songwriting to the production to Ståhl’s sweetly expressive vocals, this CD is a winner. Adult alternative and folk-rock enthusiasts will find a lot to admire on#2.
Review by Alex Henderson
4 stars out of 5