A "Tatooed Beauty" Recommended This One to Our Correspondent and It Was Love at First Listen!

Having a good music dealer is as important as having a great accountant who knows all the funky tax loopholes, because both can steer you down the right path and save you money. Lets get real here for a minute: even if you were to spend months on end reading all the music rags out there, there's bound to be a lot of albums that'll fly well below your well-heeled radar. Add to that the sheer volume of new music coming down the pipe, and you can be forgiven for not knowing what's the latest album that'll blow your mind.

Two years ago, I started off a Sunday like every other: with a steaming cup of super-strong coffee, and a drive over to my favorite music store. Now, living in a city of millions has its advantages, and a store like this is certainly one of them. Known as the “indie” hot spot, this shop is unique in that the owners only carry music they like, so suffice it to say, your chances of picking up the latest Britney or Blink 182 are slim. Try asking the staff for them, and the look in their eyes and the smirk on their faces will be enough to have you scampering out of there with your tail between your legs.

Intimidating yes, but to be expected from staff with dyed black hair, tattoos, and more piercings than humanly possible. Start talking to them however, and you'll find that they love music, and are more than willing to turn you on to something new. Like I said, knowing every good band out there these days is near impossible, so when I went up to the counter with Bonnie “Prince” Billy's Master & Everyone, the girl behind the counter asked if I'd heard of Nicolai Dunger. I hadn't, but had long since learned that no one there had ever steered me wrong, so I bought it, only knowing that he was some Swedish guy and that Will “Prince Bonnie” Oldham and his cronies played back up on it.

I remember that day not only because it introduced Dunger into my musical world, but also because I picked up the still excellent Electric Magnolia Co. album from Jason Molina/ Songs: Ohia who had previously issued spare, downer-core music, but had now made a Crazy Horse-like rocker the girl said I'd love. I do, so remember to keep an open dialogue and your ego in check when shopping for records. Yes, over fifty percent of this shop is dedicated to new vinyl releases from all your favorite underground, and not so underground bands, and one of the owners goes home at night to a Michell Orbe with Copland amplification. But vinyl is dead, so I don't know why he wastes all his time selling thousands of black discs a week to kids who weren't even alive when turntables were de rigueur. I guess some people will never learn.

The bad news is that Tranquil Isolation is only available on CD (apparently a limited edition vinyl run came out on Hot Stuff, but no one in North America has ever seen it), but so good are the sounds that you'll be able to surrender yourself over to it regardless of format.

Nicolai Dunger is a folksy singer-songwriter type who has dipped into R&B with Soul Rush(2001), and some jazz noodling via The Vinyl Trilogy (2004), but it's this stripped down outing that best showcases his unique style, and as a whole, is his most consistent offering to date.

With a world weary, fragile vocal delivery that sounds like he's a two pack a day smoker, Dunger's vox is not unlike that of Van Morrison's, both in actual sound, and in the urgency he conveys with every line. So much so that I joke about Van the man being on tour in Scandinavia in the early seventies and fathering an illegitimate child (full length feature in the Enquirer pending).

Regardless of bloodlines real or imagined, Dunger's voice is one powerful instrument, and it only takes about ten seconds to realize that he has that indefinable “it” that separates merely good singers from absolutely fantastic ones. When he says it, you believe it. When he sings it, you feel it.

Feel is an appropriate word when dealing with Dunger. His lyrics are in English, but it's not his first language, so it's not what he says, but how he sings it that matters here. Not that the lyrics need defending. In fact, they are quite refreshing in the sense that Dunger appears to be completely bereft of tough guy, macho posturing- coasting through love songs, lamenting his old lovers, and singing odes to his mother with a syrupy sentimentality that would be truly dangerous in the hands of Eminem.

The voice wouldn't be what it is without a good propeller, and Dunger gets it in spades with the help of alt-country gods Will and Paul Oldham, who support the Dunger originals with beautiful, almost exclusive acoustic accompaniment with some spare backing vocals courtesy of Will Oldham.

Adding Jessica Bailey on violin was a masterstroke, as her affecting style pierces through you with such utter sadness and emotion that her parts come off like their own story line. Dunger has a way with a melody that makes most of the songs immediately memorable, and in many cases familiar. It's almost impossible not to be humming them all day long, even if they do border on downright mellow, there is such an innate power to them that they cannot be easily dismissed and forgotten.

To peg Tranquil Isolation as an “alt-country” album is unjust. It's a great album, period, and with a live-in- the- living room production that sounds like the whole band is playing in your, um, living room, you can hardly knock the guerilla tactics when the results sound as good as they do.

In fact, I was going to review his Vinyl Trilogy, which came out in North America recently, and which comprises three of his past albums in one well-packaged set, but this one is so far ahead of all three of those albums combined, I decided to back track a bit to get you good folks on the right track first. Maybe not the best of ideas, for when you start with Tranquil Isolation, it makes anything else seem second rate by comparison.

Having had it for two years, it has become one of my favorites, and the first album I pass along to people who ask me about what new album they should check out. That it's actually only been in my possession for a total of three months in that time says a lot. Not to mention that somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty of my closest friends are all convinced he's the second coming. All of which would be for naught had I not listened to the tattooed beauty behind the counter.

williamme's picture

Nikolai is one of the best musicians in their land. If he can sustain this, it will be a good thing for him. - Carmack Moving and Storage