Susanna: Wild Dog
Rune Grammofon

Susanna Karolina Wallumrød's latest singer-songwriter recording, Wild Dog, is her third English-language solo album and the eighth album overall with which she's been involved. Her discography alternates to some degree between releases of original material and cover versions, with Wild Dog a ten-song example of the former. For this recording, Susanna surrounds herself with a small group, largely made up of piano, guitar, bass, and drums, and it's a move that heightens the material's sense of intimacy. The songs also benefit from the live feel of the performances, which exude a natural feel largely free of doctoring. Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and guitarist Emmett Kelly (from Bonnie “Prince” Billy's band) bring suitable oomph to the material when necessary, and Kelly also memorably complements Susanna's voice with his own backing vocals. Producer Helge Sten (aka Deathprod) largely refrains from imposing his presence on the material, though he is given a “Space And Beyond” credit on “Rolling on Rolling Stone.” At thirty-six minutes, it's a short recording by CD standards, though there's something to be said for concision.

It's an album of many moods and styles, from yearning (“Imagine”) to wondrous (“Rolling on Rolling Stone”), and while it's generally low-key, there are moments where the material builds to a rawer pitch. As such, while “Oh, I Am Stuck” opens affably with Susanna's voice floating breezily over a weave of electric guitar interplay, it eventually grows into a snarl. Dark, too, is “Wild Horse Wild Dog,” whose slow-motion attack verges on blues rock. Particularly lovely is “Starving Soul,” where Susanna ruminates on lost love at a near-whisper, and “Invitation,” in which the song's ethereal character is subtly bolstered by the string contributions of Ole Henrik Moe and Kari Rønnekleiv (aka The Sheriffs of Nothingness). Arriving at album's end, one of the album's strongest songs, “Lonely Heart” (“You're an oak tree standing alone / An oak that stands on its own”), shows Susanna's vocal ability at its finest; the way she stretches out the words “Holding on” is as close to a vocal flourish as she gets, and the moment is, not surprisingly, stirring.

While credible enough, her originals aren't at the level of the songs by the artists she covers on Flower of Evil, things like “Jailbreak” (Thin Lizzy), “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (Sandy Denny), and “Lay Your Hands On Me” (Abba), and on the Susanna And The Magical Orchestra recording Melody Mountain, which includes sterling renditions of “It's A Long Way To The Top” (AC DC) and “Crazy, Crazy Nights” (Kiss), among others. But even when a particular Wild Dog song underwhelms, there's always Susanna's exquisite vocalizing. It's a sad comment that, in certain circles at least, what's taken for great singing involves overembellishment, something foreign to someone with a sensibility as refined as Susanna's. One thankfully searches in vain for any such grandstanding in her own delivery.

June 2012