Words and Guitar

"How's the sauna?" the tall, bearded man asked the crowd that had squeezed into a Brooklyn basement on a rainy night in early May. He smiled, maneuvering his lanky frame around the microphones and vases of cut flowers assembled on stage to sit at a toy piano. To his left, a small woman in bright red dress put down a glass of wine and positioned herself on another stool.

And then Ólöf Arnalds began to sing. The forty or so listeners fell silent at once, leaning forward on their wooden benches so as not to miss a single lyric or a passing note struck by her nimble fingers as they moved across the fretboard of her acoustic guitar. She sang in Icelandic, she sang in English, and during the second song, she sang in unison with the audience, heightening the intimacy of the candlelit performance space beneath Sycamore.

I wasn't entirely sure that I'd like Ólöf when I boarded a Q train bound for Ditmas Park, but her delicate folk music and friendly banter won me over. "I don't want to talk about politics and all that boring stuff," she promised at one point during her set. Keeping true to her word, she introduced a new song entitled "Surrender," by explaining that it was about women. While I found the vocal melody memorable and especially plaintive, my favorite numbers were actually another original called "Crazy Car," and a somewhat rough but still charming cover of Caetano Veloso's "Maria Bethania." Oh, and speaking of Scandinavian songwriters, my review of Theresa Andersson's television debut appears in the current issue of Nordic Reach.
Photo by Brittney Bush Bollay for KEXP

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