Epic Male Band is a project led by Finnish fiddler extraordinaire Esko Järvelä. You know, he's written loads of tunes, he plays 5-string fiddle with Nordgrass outfit Frigg, and the marvellous Tsuumi Sound System, as well as semi-Celtic band Baltic Crossing and various other ensembles.

Epic Male Band is something a bit different:


Epic Male Band Own Label EMB001, 10 tracks, 47 minutes

This Finnish fiddler with the fiddly name (I'll just call him Esko) is a widely respected tunesmith, traditional musician, and member of the massively entertaining band Frigg. Despite all this, Esko decided he wanted to play in a rock band! So this is Finnish fiddle with a rock band, and actually it works really well. Some tracks are close to the polskas and Nordgrass genre of Frigg, but most of this album is louder, brasher, faster, and more funked up than folk music ever was. It's still folk rock - Rush and Queen don't have to be worried about the competition yet - but there is an insistent beat and a throbbing bass line which mark this as something heavier than ceilidh music. The sleeve notes are helpfully in pucker English, but the translated track names are sometimes a little surprising. There's also some confusion over the CD title - it's perhaps the debut of Esko Järvelä and the Epic Male Band, and may someday be known simply as "The Red Album" when these guys are worldwide megastars.

There's plenty of humour on Epic Male Band. It starts with a little warm-up moment, introducing guitars, fiddle, drums and bass - the core line-up. Then the band launches into Bottom Fellows, inspired by the performance of "the coolest hockey club in the world" - ice hockey presumably. Wunderbaumgartner captures the story of that mad Austrian para-astronaut: the build-up to his space jump, the grace and beauty of his descent back to earth, and the jubilation afterwards when he didnlt end up as a patch of congealed ketchup at the bottom of a small crater. Blue Mountain Polska is one of the tracks which could come from the repertoire of Frigg, a relatively gentle melody with muted drums and bass behind a very Scandinavian fiddle. Then there's a bit of a dairy theme, with a tune dedicated to milk, and another one named after a Dutch cheese, both in the progressive rock style. Slice to Laura-Beth may be named for a certain Scottish-based mandolinist: it certainly has a state-side swamp-rock feel to it, buckwheat zydeco and all that.

Another Frigg-like track, and then comes a piece which is more swing than rock: Attention! This is one of my favourites, a real mishmash of music which reminds me of the late great Oliver Schroer, mixing in recorded speech and sound effects, a chance for the band to show off individually before their big finish. The final Epic Theme, well over eight minutes, brings in woodwind sounds including low whistle and bagpipes to create a mood similar to Red Hot Chilli Pipers or some of the modern Celtic film scores. Calum MacCrimmon provides mouth-blown input, and there's a small wordless choir and a cut-down string quartet, but mostly Epic Male Band is just the five core musicians. All the music on this CD was written by Esko, at odd moments over a long period, and this perhaps explains both the wide range of styles and the overall consistency. The result is an extremely enjoyable album, if you have any taste for folk rock fiddle: check it out at www.epicmaleband.com

Alex Monaghan

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