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Susanna and the Magical Orchestra - List of Lights and Buoys

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Artist: Susanna and the Magical Orchestra

Album: List of Lights and Buoys

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Aug. 11, 2004

If beauty was my top concern, it would be easy to listen to Susanna and The Magical Orchestra's debut, List of Lights and Buoys, in one sitting. But it’s not. The album is full of relentless wistfulness, provocative stories and avant instrumentation, but Susanna’s insistence on presenting those sentiments in such a uniform manner throughout the album's 11 songs reduces what might have been to Muzak.

Which is not to say that Susanna Karolina Wallumrod does not have a lovely voice. Backed by Andreas Qvenild (ex-Jaga Jazzist) on keyboards, harmonium and autoharp, and Andreas Mjos on guitar and timpani, it's hard to avoid comparisons to Bjork, though Susanna never quite lets it all unfurl in the way Bjork does during her more triumphant moments. Strangely, because of the way Susanna puts so much emphasis on the nuances and tones of her words, I found myself thinking of Billie Holliday - for a brief second. Billie wasn't just sultry. She could swing, she could belt it out, she could joke, be reflective, swagger, dream, lament. With Susanna, we get one simple emotion. It's damn sexy at first, but after a while, sounds like the pony's only trick.

The album’s highlight is a cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," a song about a beautiful girl stealing the singer's man, and a good example of List's unmet potential. Bringing Nashville to Oslo is a great idea, the juxtaposition is almost a non-sequitur, like Johnny Cash singing Nine Inch Nails, but it works. Indeed, with Susanna sounding so strong and sexy, she makes the idea of anyone stealing her man difficult to believe, even more so than Dolly did 30 years ago.

A second cover, Leonard Bernstein's "Who Am I," which opens the album, also sparkles. In fact, if the whole album was covers, you'd find no objection here. Maybe Susanna could try "It's the End of The World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." Either that, or instead of releasing this record as one piece, perhaps Susanna could release each song on a different compilation. Because you can pick any one song on List of Lights and Buoys, put it among others (country, hip-hop, just about any genre), and it sounds incredible.

Susanna has talent, that’ a given. But she's been described as a woman who doesn't realize her own beauty. I would say the problem is exactly the opposite.

By Matthew Bernstein

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