Image © Aito Records Ltd 2008
(29 December 2009) It is rare nowadays to find an album that could be as personal, as honest, as pure and as unique as the debut album of Finnish songstress Riikka Timonen, entitled Käenkukuntayöt (Cuckoo Nights) (Aito Records (Finland), AICD011, 2008). When seeing the album title without hearing any of its ten pieces, one could easily jump into conclusions and think, "oh no, not a Värttinä-style, shouty folk album again." While there are some Värttinä/folk music influences here and there on this album, it still isn’t anywhere near being copycatting nor repeating anything that could sound clichéd in terms of Finnish folk music, Värttinä or other similar things, albeit Riikka was once a member in Värttinä. In other words, Käenkukuntayöt is not a folk album, not a Värttinä album, not a jazz album, not even an ethno album, it is, in fact, all this and even much much more!
Due to Riikkas long-time commitments for various music projects such as Värttinä, Adiemus and a group called Castafioren Korut--to name but just a few--her debut solo album has had to wait for a whole decade for its release, but although it has taken for such a long time for her to find the right time and right people to collaborate with as well as the right for for her lyrics to become songs, it appears to be actually a good thing. This way, the ten pieces of the album have been given time to allow them to become refined, as musical diamonds that beautifully shine and stand out of the current single-use-only pop we tend to hear everywhere we go.
Although Riikka found her main collaborator, composer Ville Laaksonen, from a very surprising direction--the former taught vocals for the latter--it sounds as if they'd been working together for much longer time than they actually have! The collaboration between not just Ville and Riikka, but also between all the others involved, is seamless, and it can be heard throughout the whole album. No wonder that the same joy that oozes from the musicians, beams also to the listener, bringing the listening experience to a completely new level.
The album is a wonderful collection of different styles, finely amalgamated with each other and without sounding exactly like any of them in particular. There are lots of delicate nuances present in the music, not only in Riikka'’s ability to interpret lyrics but also in terms of instrumentation as well as melody and rhythm. Riikka's voice comes very well to its own right, the balance between soft and edgy vocals in just perfect, if not taking the slight strain of her voice into account. Also, the way how instrumentation and the usage of the ethnic instrument sounds as a colour suits to the pieces very well, supporting the songs very beautifully.
Riikka's lyrics reflect different moods and life in general, not forgetting humour nor any of the darker sides of life either. Each piece is like a miniature story or a short movie, and although many of the songs are dedicated to someone important for Riikka herself, one doesn’t need to understand those connections in order to fully enjoy the album and its music.
The use of the Finnish language is a very brave move for Riikka and her team, which obviously gives the music some extra exoticism, just like it brought Värttinä to world fame, but still it would have been nice to put at least some of the lyric translations and/or artist biographical information also in English to the album booklet, just in case of the album would once be released outside Finland as well. On the other hand, it would be a big pity if Riikka's album would remain as Finland-only release, because music that is made so well and with such a big passion as this, really deserves a worldwide audience! Not forgetting, of course, the possible follow-up recordings or live concerts. In the meantime, visit Finland or your favorite internet outlet to and buy Käenkukuntayöt as a musical souvenir!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland