Susanna Credit: Anne Valeur

Remarkable Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød, who usually records under her first name, has spent the past decade and a half triangulating between several compelling personas, though it’s always clear as day who you’re listening to—her crystalline voice is just as clear. She first made waves in 2004 leading Susanna & the Magical Orchestra, a duo with keyboardist Morten Qvenild of In the Country fame. They combined sorrowful, gorgeous originals and occasional inventive covers at a molasses-slow pace, their lovely melodic shapes moving so patiently they seemed like frozen clouds. She eventually began making even starker records simply as Susanna, often accompanied by nothing but her own piano playing.

Seven years ago she “went acoustic” in a project with excellent Swiss Baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi, who’d played in a band led by Susanna’s sublimely talented brother, keyboardist Christian Wallumrød. On the 2011 album If Grief Could Wait (ECM) they teamed up with Marco Ambrosini (playing a Swedish keyed fiddle called a nyckelharpa) and Jane Achtman (viola da gamba) to put a narcotic gloss on Baroque songs by Henry Purcell. They also covered tunes by Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake such that they could blend right in with material several centuries older—in her hands they all became honeyed laments.

Over the years Wallumrød has increasingly mixed her various approaches, to the point that she has access to every one of her aesthetic choices in any setting. In every case, the elegant songs usually move at a sensual crawl, allowing her powerful but measured voice to easily become the focal point. On her superb 2016 album, Triangle, she adopted a maximal sound on a set of originals, with elaborate and varied arrangements that included piano ballads and gooey pop songs. Last week she returned with Go Dig My Grave (SusannaSonata), reuniting her with Pessi but shifting lineup and repertoire again.

This time out they’re joined by Ida Løvli Hidle on accordion and Tuva Livsdatter Syvertsen on hardanger fiddle and violin, and though the ambience is much the same, they tackle only one Purcell tune (“Cold Song”). The rest of the material is mostly postpunk (Joy Division’s “Wilderness” and Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day”) or British and American folk (the album opens with a joyful reading of Elisabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train”). She also sets a Charles Baudelaire poem to her own music (“Invitation to the Voyage”) and serves up a ravishing version of “Lilac Wine,” a ballad famously recorded by both Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley. As nearly all of her recordings do, this one requires you to adjust to its unhurried pace, but once you do that the beauty of her music takes over, sounding earthy and celestial at once. Below you can check out the arresting title track, an old American folk tune recorded for Folkways by Jean Ritchie in the early 60s. Wallumrød performs next month at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, both solo and with a version of the group from Go Dig My Grave: Pessi, remarkable accordionist Frode Haltli, and Louisville violinist Cheyenne Mize. The only other U.S. show planned is a New York gig after the fest.
Mize has often worked with Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham), a vociferous advocate of Wallumrød’s music. He’s toured and recorded with Susanna, and last year he delivered an even greater testimonial by releasing Wolf of the Cosmos (Palace/Drag City), a song-by-song remake of her 2007 album Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos (Rune Grammofon) recorded with Mize, guitarist Emmett Kelly, and guitarist/banjo player Chris Rodahaffer. The release was vinyl only and only barely promoted, and the arrangements are rustic and unfussy, but the album is still exquisitely beautiful—it does a wonderful job situating Wallumrød’s ethereal Nordic aesthetic in the mountains of Kentucky. Below you can watch the video for the song “People Living,” which uses raw footage shot during the deadly white nationalist rally last year in Charlottesville.

Today’s playlist:

Cédric Tiberghien, Bartok (Hyperion)
Stein Urheim, Strandebarm (Hubro)
Gavin Templeton, Ballast (Orenda)
Maurizio Pollini, Stravinsky/Prokofiev/Webern/Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon)
Matthew Revert, Being Small (Kye)