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Sol Heilo (Norway) – Round and Round (single)

Even though Sol Heilo has appeared at least four times in Nordic Music Central it has never been with a new song even though we are two and a half years old. In fact the last time it was one of our ‘Down Memory Lane/From the Archives’ features with Sol singing her version of the happy rap song ‘Holde rundt deg’ at a festival in 2019.

So she’s been off the radar for quite a while, mainly down to family rearing responsibilities as I understand it and while she’s been keeping herself busy with side projects like film scores and production I suspect some of her fans, many of them from the Katzenjammer days, were beginning to think that they might not hear that raspy, sexy Norse voice again.

But you can’t keep a good Skinhorse down. On her 2017 debut album ‘Skinhorse Playground’, a dark reprise of her childhood fears, she recorded a song – the best on the album in my view – in which she urged herself to ‘Walk a little further’.

Well she’s done that, at length, and the marathon is complete.

Musically ‘Round and Round’ is a ballad built effortlessly around picked acoustic guitar strings that develop a traditionally simple melody (Sol doesn’t often go in for big productions), gently adding restrained layers as it progresses and builds the catchiness that is at odds with its gravitas.

Lyrically, I’m still trying to get to grips with it. She is a clever songwriter. You could spend all day analysing the cryptic lyrics to ‘Skinhorse Playground’ and then if you’ve got any energy left start on those that have come since. Or you could do the New York Times crossword.

So on reflection it should have been no surprise to come across Mary Magdalene in the opening line of her first song in years. But, if the object of the lyric is Jesus’ right hand woman, then who is the narrator? Get into this:

“The world’s full of sinners, Mary Magdalene, it’s how we live and dream

And you’re no beginner you could write the book, you may be too extreme

It’s not what you say to me but oh, the way your body lies

It’s easy, it’s better when you’re indiscreet

Your word is bittersweet.”

As the song proceeds I come to the conclusion that Mary and the setting are but metaphors for something that is going on in her life right now, or has done in the past. She’s good at that. Connoisseurs will remember for example the hatchet job that was ‘Killing Karma’ on ‘Skinhorse Playground’.

But there is no anger here, just sorrow and frustration that “there’s a world between us, though you’re next to me” and the musical tone that is similar to the one in ‘London is Trouble’, also on the debut album, only serves to underline that.

And then there are the very final two words, “my catastrophe” and how to interpret them. While she uses the surprise ending sparingly it is always highly effectively when she does, as in ‘Happy Song’, the final one on ‘Skinhorse Playground’:

“Come play a happy song…

I would do it for you”

she pleads, almost begging for reciprocation from old friends.

So here, who is “my catastrophe”? Katastrofe (Petter Bjørklund Kristiansen) is the Norwegian writer and singer who wrote and first recorded the aforementioned ‘Holde rundt deg’ and who was, a few years ago, her producer and label boss. He could still be for all I know, and it might go further than that. Who am I to say? This is Nordic Music Central, not Hello! Magazine.

But at the end of the day I suspect Sol Heilo fans don’t care too much about that. She commands the sort of respect in Norway and beyond that is reserved down under for Kylie on Ramsay Street in Melbourne.

Those fans will just be glad to hear her once again singing (and in a voice which is maturing like a fine wine) those curious, quirky, thoughtful, challenging and highly appealing songs she has come to specialise in over the last seven years or so.

I dare say that in quite a few bars that will be toasted tonight, and not just in Amsterdam.

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