By edging away from their own musical roots and taking on board new and more sophisticated influences, Siena Root have created a psychedelic rock album for the thinking man.
I wonder sometimes if Siena Root feel a bit miffed about the hand fate has dealt them. They were recording on analogue gear long before it became hip to do so, releasing vinyl before every high street had a record shop, and they were playing late ‘60s / early ‘70s heavy psychedelic music long before the trickle of such bands became a flood. And yet the Swedes are still here a quarter of a century later, and still pushing boundaries as we shall see. Perhaps one of the reasons for the band failing to build a bigger fanbase than might be expected is the instability of the lineup. True, the rhythm partnership of Sam Riffer on bass and Love Forsberg on drums has been there since the group’s debut release in 1999, but guitarists and singers have come and gone. For guitarist Johan Borgström and singer/keyboardist Zubaida Solid, this is just their second release with the group, and the first where Solid has the sole singing role.
The album opener Coincidence And Fate is typical Siena Root piece: ponderous, bass-heavy and slow, transporting one back instantly to circa 1969. The next three songs quicken up the pace a little bit without sounding substantially different: Professional Procrastinator reminded me of one of those jaunty mid-period Zeppelin numbers, while No Peace and Fighting Gravity are heavier and rawer and more akin to material on the first two Zeppelin albums. In all four of these songs, Solid gives a strong vocal performance. She has the same grit in her voice as Janis Joplin which means she can carry these songs with ease.
This album has an odd running order because those first four songs might cause you to think that we are in for a Zeppelin-fest, but then everything else on the album sounds very different. Dusty Roads is a slow languid bluesy number, characterized by acoustic guitars, flute, and soulful vocals from Solid. Despite the volume being raised towards the conclusion, it is an atmospheric and understated piece, showing a very different side of the band. Its companion piece is the bluesy album closer, Keeper Of The Flame, which despite some excellent guitar work from Borgström, and excellent vocals from Solid ranging from the sultry introduction to the fierce singing at the end, isn’t quite as structurally coherent as Dusty Roads.
Moving on to some of the more original material on the album, the word ‘weird’ was the word that jumped to my mind on listening to Winter Solstice. Musically, it sounds as if Ian Anderson has joined a jazz group as little flute episodes float over a walking fretless double bass and a bed of acoustic guitars. Solid weaves a meandering melody in what is a delightfully delicate track (that’s probably not a phrase used frequently to describe this group!). The instrumental Dalecarlia Stroll again has a good deal of flute, this time supported by a regular electric bass that thumps along persistently throughout the song, joined at various points by organ and electric guitar. At the mid-way point the instruments join up to thrash out a riff which doesn’t sound a million miles away from Rainbow’s Sixteenth Century Greensleeves. It’s another good and original track that keeps you guessing where it is going.
Winter Solstice and Dalecarlia Stroll might be a little unusual for the group, but they sound very normal in comparison with the two left-field tracks Leaving The City and Madhukauns. Here, the band introduce sitar and percussion from the Indian sub-continent. But this isn’t just to add a little exotic colour. Instead, it’s a genuine fusion of two different types of music creating an intoxicating mix. Parallels could be drawn with Monsoon’s Third Eye album from 1983 (from which Ever So Lonely was a hit single), but whereas Monsoon mixed Indian and pop influences, here it is more American blues and Indian music going into the pot. Personally, I find this type of experimentation exciting, but I do wonder whether it creates a risk of alienating some of the long-standing fans of the group who might see this as straying too far from the heavily fuzzed headbanging material.
Forgive the pun, but: this album is a revelation! To these ears, this is by far and away the best album Siena Root have produced. By edging away from their own musical roots and taking on board new and more sophisticated influences, Siena Root have created a psychedelic rock album for the thinking man.