Instead of fitting neatly into one musical genre, the David Harenstam Band’s "What happened in Fremantle?" fits into none. It is an odd, but mostly effective, mix of folk, jazz, classical and other styles.
Harenstam is a talented guitarist from Sweden who performs regularly as a classical musician. He plays clean, piercing notes on his acoustic guitar and easily moves from style to style. He also plays electric guitar on several songs, but it is the crisp sounds that he nutures from the acoustic instrument that are memorable.
The CD opens with "Pont des Arts," a folksy song written by New Zealand-based singer Sophie Moleta, who contributes three original songs and sings on a total of four. She has a low-key, moody style. Her closest musical kin is perhaps Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies. Both have beautiful voices and slow, haunting deliveries.
"What happened in Fremantle?" also includes several instrumental numbers, which have classical and Latin influences. Each song features a different ensemble of musicians. The song "Oblivion," for example, has guitar, violin and accordion. Other songs have saxophone or drums.
Much of the CD alternates between Moleta’s folk songs and the band’s instrumentals. But, just when you think you have the album figured out, there is "EmbrABCeable you" and "Seglats" with the improvisational band Tinnitus Therapi Trip. These messy songs sound very much improvised and fall closer to performance art than any particular musical style. They add to the unpredictable nature of the CD, but aren’t as good as Moleta’s whispered tales or Harenstam’s classy instrumentals.
The disc officially closes with Harenstam and Moleta performing Bob Dylan’s "Buckets of Rain." It’s a sparse, beautiful treatment. Moleta’s tender vocals are a perfect fit for the bittersweet lyrics. Although "Buckets of Rain" is the last song listed on the CD, there is a surprise that follows. This is an album full of surprises, mostly good ones.