For the past dozen or so years, Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren has been releasing albums full of romantically-rendered Southern folk interpretations for European audiences. Wooh Dang, his sparse eighth album, is the first to be released in the United States, and will likely help establish the 35 year-old singer-songwriter to an Americana scene that his music fits neatly into.
Over ten songs, Norgren offers a survey course of sorts in 20th century American roots music: “Dandelion Time” is a Southern blues indebted to Howlin Wolf; “The Power” draws from Smokey Robinson’s pop balladry; “Let Love Run the Game,” the album’s shining centerpiece, is a finely-tuned classic soul pastiche by way of Muscle Shoals. There’s an innocence and intensity to Norgren’s reimagination of the American South, a tendency towards straightforward appropriation countered by the careful studiousness with which Norgren approaches his source material.
But the singer-songwriter’s latest is also much more complex and multi-layered than any sort of mere blues revivalist project. The album doesn’t open so much as simply begin, with Norgren’s noodling around on a three minute instrumental soundscape (“Blue Sky Moon”) before creeping into a moody, six-and-a-half minute ballad that finds Norgren half-mumbling over brooding piano chords (“The Flow”).
That space–between Norgren’s darker, more experimental tendencies and his fresh-faced roots romanticism–provides the guiding tension in Wooh-Dang, an album that surprises, excites, perplexes and thrills over the course of its 38 minutes. “So Glad,” a four-minute meditation on the song’s titular sentiment, is a zen meditation that refuses to abandon or build upon its repetitive folk structure. It’s a gesture that frustrates as much as it challenges in its failure to deliver a building pop climax. But for Norgren, a singer who’s at his best when he’s deconstructing American folk idioms, that just may be the point.