Chris Nickson, fROOTS, UK (2017) — Trad.Attack!

Chris Nickson, fROOTS, UK (2017)

Imagine folk music at the top of the charts. Imagine thousands of fans singing along with a rural refrain recorded decades ago. More than that, imagine bagpipes as a pop instrument. Well, it happened in Estonia, and Trad.Attack! did it on their first album. Now imagine having to follow that. But the Baltic three-piece have done it with admirable style, and built on that enviable start to create an album that breathes, dances, and keeps close to their love of archival songs. And yes, there’s still plenty of Sandra Vabarna’s Estonian bagpipes.

It starts where their debut left off, full-out and frantic Talgo. Move on a little though, and it’s obvious they’ve expanded their sound, with more of Jalmar Vabarna’s twelve-string guitar, while Tõnu Tubli’s drums provide their powerhouse underpinning. The elements are the same as before, power-trio folk, but with a delicious twist of invention. Kallimale has old voices looped, a choir of them, while Metsa Kuldsed Kuningad is lyrical incantations against wolves (always handy). There’s the breathing space of the lullaby Unelaul, and by the time the title track appears at the close, it’s obvious that Trad.Attack! have let themselves breathe this time around – it last for twelve minutes, with a gentle rise of energy towards the end. Whistles, Jew’s harp, that indefinable Baltic sense of darkness and mystery always lurking just under the surface. And you also get a magic tree on Imepuu.

They’ve taken their time putting this album together, and the thought they’ve put into it all shows. Ant that sits very well alongside the energy and passion that seem part of their DNA. Can Estonia (and its bagpipes) be poised for musical world domination?