The title gives it away. Buoyant, bicycle spoke playing songstress Hanne Hukkelberg, whose whimsical pitter-pattering through two albums has recalled the airier, more pastoral side of Norwegian folk, has gone electric. Instead of inserting a core stream of roots-laden whimsy into fluttering melodic progressions, Hukkelberg is strapping on, plugging in and rocking out.
But is this the pure Hanne Hukkelberg? Were the first two albums, 2005’s Little Things and 2007’s Rykestraase 68, merely exercises? It’s tough to judge, as this is quite a change. Regardless, one thing Blood From A Stone exercises throughout is Hukkelberg’s dexterity, and way with song structures. Yet what it lacks is exactly what made the songwriter so deliciously likeable with previous efforts. Gone is the cute, amiable Hukkelberg. What we have instead is angrier, grittier, rocker.
The depths Hukkelberg reached on albums one and two rears its head, as whatever music she’s tinkering with, there is still a sense of the sublime inherent within her chord lilts and vocal style. The title track, one of the best on offer, proves this. She sings sarcastically, toying with crumbling drums and arcane guitars to the point where her vocals overtake, pitting choral wailing over simple folk strumming. But overtaking with such gall comes naturally to Hukkelberg, as it would with Diamanda Galas or PJ Harvey. There’s much afoot, but it all functions amicably, despite Hukkelberg doing everything in her power to tear the song apart.
Herein lies the strength of this songwriter. She pulls together juxtaposed ideas, and somehow makes them work, even if there’s no reason for them to. This is apparent throughout Blood From A Stone. Salt Of The Earth tries for dreamlike and assertive at once, while Bygd Til By, the only Norwegian song, pushes too far into Icelandic ethereality. Still, just when it’s on its last leg, Hukkelberg pulls it back from the brink and injects it with immediacy, either by belting out a wail or toning down the lot.
But it doesn’t work all the time. Hukkelberg is an iconoclast, known for inserting homemade instruments, kitchen utensils and who knows what else into her music. This is a fairly straightforward rock record, to some degree, and its simplicity takes away from those moments in which Hukkelberg thrives. At times, it’s difficult to discern which song is which, as often the best parts are left out. Sometimes plucking away on a bicycle spoke or squeezing an accordion makes all the difference.
Regardless, this will introduce Hukkelberg to new audiences who, if they are smart enough, will dig out her two previous efforts to see both sides. Just one leaves out half the picture. Put them together, and a terrific songwriter emerges.