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  • David Bentley

Sol Heilo (NO) – Solstice (EP)

A little early for the summer solstice but who cares, the new EP from Sol Heilo is sizzling on the barbecue.

This is her second EP, the first having been an acoustic re-run of some of the tracks on her debut LP, ‘Skinhorse Playground’. Here she throws in a couple of tracks that were already released and which we reviewed this year (‘All the Lost People’ which was co-written with her brother, and ‘Lift your head’), one we reviewed last year and whose DNA goes back several years (‘May is the Month’), an old favourite from a couple of years back (‘Stars’), an even older favourite which I saw her perform the first time I ever caught her live, at the Reeperbahn Festival in 2017 (‘No More Games’) and just one song I wasn’t familiar with, ‘Scent of a Print.’

To be honest I suppose it was mildly disappointing to find a dearth of new material but you have to bear in mind Sol Heilo’s modus operandi, which is based on the fact that she wrote many of her songs while on the road with Katzenjammer, storing them away for future reference but occasionally throwing them in at live gigs since so that her fans will know the songs but not the casual listener.

The EP gets off to a solid start with ‘May is the Month’, which I said last year was equal to anything on ‘Skinhorse Playground’ apart from the masterpiece that is ‘Walk a little further’; a gentle but complex acoustic guitar piece which takes us through the months courtesy of a series of gerunds (“sleeping, waking, breaking, rising, dying” etc, pretty much one for each month) occasionally erupting into a gospel anthem.

‘Lift your ahead’ passed our way only a couple of months ago, a song she said she never intended to share but eventually felt obliged to, and I’m happy to repeat the observation I made at the time, that it’s one equally appropriate to a bomb shelter in the Blitz, a storm shelter in tornado alley, or a pandemic. If you don’t get uplifted by it, especially when the choir strikes up, your goose bumps must be on strike. Like she says, “it hits so hard you cannot breathe.” How on earth this track only has 15,000 hits on Spotify I’ll never know. It should be 15 zillion. And it should be the credits song for the film about pandemic.

‘All the Lost People’, for which the writing credits go to brother Kristjan, is a darker track, one in which Heilo demonstrates that there is an ethereal side to her nature. It sounds like it should have been included on ‘Skinhorse Playground’ as it fits the sombre, slightly foreboding mood of that album perfectly.

‘Stars’ is a strange one, at least to me, because it isn’t really in her style, neither is it that of Katzenjammer. Unusually, it is banjo led, but that’s one of her favourite instruments and she knows how to play it. The vocal style is different too. I thought it might be a cover but apparently it’s all her own work. Something of an acquired taste but it will grow on you. Here is a live performance from 2019.

Sol Heilo concluded her Reeperbahn performance that I mentioned earlier with ‘No More Games’ and I recall the audience being blown away. They already had been by the skimpiest, tightest pair of little yellow shorts I’ve ever seen; I had to check my blood pressure, but this was something else again. In this version, in which she duets with Sivert Høyem, rock vocalist with bands including Madrugada, it starts off quite calmly but it isn’t long before the pair of them are reaching the decibel levels of Concorde. I can’t think of a finer way to end a show or an album. Find it here.

I left ‘A scent like a print’ until last, it being unknown territory. A different style again and another one I’ve not heard Sol Heilo use previously. It has elements of chamber music in it, while the vocal deliver is soft and gentle without the slightly breathless, raspy and sexy vocal that she has trademarked over the years. If I didn’t know it was Sol I wouldn’t have guessed and it made me realise just how much variety there is in these six tracks.

So there are a couple of clues on this EP, this newest song being the biggest one perhaps, as to where she might be going on the next full length, as the distance between her and her Katzenjammer past widens.

As ever Sol Heilo benefits here from working with musicians she’s gotten to know over the years and who fit perfectly her method and direction. I know for sure they include Ronny Ytrehus, who is the dexterous guitarist in the ‘Stars’ video and I guess that Olav Senstad to his right count amongst them too, along with Hanne Mari Karlsen at the back. As for the percussion, she probably did that herself. Then she throws into the mix top-rank artists like Sivert Høyem and Thom Hell.

I’m tempted to give this 9/10 and I will do mainly because the initial disappointment at not seeing much in the way of new material was more than offset by just how well the EP hangs together.

One little regret that continues to niggle is that she hasn’t recorded an English version of ‘Holde rundt deg’ (loosely ‘Hold around you’) an anti-bullying song I reckon would go down a storm in the UK which was originally recorded by ‘Captain Katastrofe’ (who I think is her producer) and which she performed on the Norwegian TV show ‘Hver gang vi møtes’ last year (watched over by Mr Katastrofe himself), and winning a galaxy of new fans into the bargain.

Also at this festival in 2019. This to me is what Sol Heilo is all about, a one-woman show in her own right, busker par excellence, the complete all-round entertainer. I know she is playing MiniØya, the children’s festival in Oslo this month (the big Øya festival having been cancelled for the second year) and I reckon the kids will be rocking again. I can’t give a bigger hint than that can I Sol? I’d even translate the fricking lyrics myself. J

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