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Haakon Ellingsen
The Plum Album
Termo Records

This is Haakon's fourth solo album. He is helped out by about the same bunch of excellent musicians as on its predecessor Bounty, including Brynjar Dambo (White Willow, Okasa, also engineer and co-producer of The Plum Album along with Haakon), Ketil Einarsen (Jaga Jazzist, Okasa, who has participated on every album by Haakon) and Erik Johannessen (Jaga Jazzist), Øystein Hvamen Rasmussen to name some of them.

There seems to be a distinct development in Haakon's output. By now there are few of the singer-songwriter and folk elements left that dominated his first effort Minstrel. The thoughtful "The Teacher" with some tasty guitars and horns and leanings towards the singer-songwriter tradition and the folksy uplifting "I'd Stay In This Mood All My Life If I Could" with Haakon's banjo dominating being the most obvious exceptions. And the psychedelic and progressive elements of parts of his second album What Is To Come...? are almost all gone. Cultivation of pop in its purest sense that draws on the heritage of The Beatles, The Beach Boys etc. of the 1960s dominates The Plum Album even more than on Bounty. The description of his music as chamber pop or baroque pop seem to fit more now than ever with lots of acoustic string and brass instruments dominating the Plum sound.

On first hearing I was overwhelmed by the excellent pop production. After quite a few spins, I sometimes wonder if Haakon has strived too hard to reach the perfect sound. The delicate arrangements and production throughout are only disturbed to a certain extent by Haakon's faithful ukulele and banjo on several tracks and a discreetly fuzzed (and partly backwards?) guitar of "They Play With The Wind". I'd preferred a few more of those flaws in between. On the other hand, the instrumental playing and sounds are pure enjoyment, though with "Dear Funny" he goes completely over the top. The song is fearfully close to easy listening; the plum turned into a prune. I tend to reach for the button to skip to the next song before the vibraphone solo starts. Still, the other day I was profoundly surprised when suddenly I realised this song was spinning in my head, with a different lead singer. I think it was Dean Martin...

Haakon has proved earlier he can write convincing songs in the John Lennon vein. Here he does it again. "Charlie" and parts of "100 Years Ago" (with a delightful piano sound) draw lots from Lennon of the Imagine era. "Charlie", about a certain film pioneer and giant, must be the best soft Lennon ballad not to be written by Lennon himself, ever. The opening track "Sunshine Girl" is the song most obviously fitted as a radio hit (dream on..., not in this unjust world, I'm afraid). It's smooth, happy and catchy. The arrangement is a firm demonstration of hit potential craftsmanship with an exquisite blend of soft vocals and flute, discreet vocal harmonies, swirling keyboards, even happy ukulele and acoustic guitar picking... Still, in the long run (so far at least, I've been living with the Plum for six weeks by now), I tend to prefer the stripped unplugged version of the song cunningly entitled "Barefoot Sunshine Girl", only Haakon singing with his ukulele on his knee and an occasional cello. A great example that the song itself might outshine recording studio trickery, after all. "Tonight" is another gem, beautiful melancholic and heavily stringed. And then we have the playful happy-go-lucky "Love To Be With You"; that combination of dynamic electric piano, brass and lap steel must be a novelty...

If you ask me, The Plum Album only includes two weak songs, the aforementioned "Dear Funny" and "The Sky Police". The latter is meant to be more funny than dear. I got tired of it about the fourth time around. 10 great songs out of 12, not bad, eh? And it's an improvement of Bounty where the proportion was 6 out of 9, to my reckoning. This means the Plum is ripe and most nibbles are as juicy and sweet as can be!

Check out Haakon's home page, his Myspace page and the home of Termo Records for further investigations.

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You may also want to check out our Haakon Ellingsen articles/reviews: Bounty, Egelantiersstraat, Orkaner og fuglesang, September, September, Tannsjødager.

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