Friday, September 8, 2023

Sofia Talvik: “Center Of The Universe” (2023) CD Review

Sofia Talvik is a singer and songwriter from Sweden now based in Germany. She has released several albums and singles since her 2005 debut, Blue Moon. Her new album, Center Of The Universe, features all original material. Joining her are Drake Duffer on mandolin and guitar, Peyton Clifford on accordion and backing vocals, Janne Manninen on bass, and Joakim Lundgren on drums and percussion.

The album opens with “Circle Of Destruction,” which was also the first single released, and the song that got me interested in this disc. A gorgeous and passionate vocal performance is at the center of this song. “Will the peace that we dreamed of ever come/There’s an inherent fault in all of us/The urge to destroy is born in some/What they can’t build up/They will tear down/And the circle of destruction has begun.” I wonder if we are capable of moving past that. I find myself both hopeful and pessimistic. It seems there will always be people who are drawn to the destructive act, and always people willing to follow them. “If we can’t be first/If we cannot win/There’s a fear and there’s hate that grows within/Gotta find a way/To not give in/Together is the only way we’ll win.” We have seen the terrible results of fear and hate more and more in recent years. This track features some nice work on accordion. That’s followed by the album’s title track, “Center Of The Universe.” This is a striking and moving song, both sad and hopeful. It is about children and young adults who have gone missing, and trying to imagine possible good outcomes for them. “He was fifteen when he ran away from home/If you check it out, that’s what the records say/His mom is certain that at least he would have called/She stops to watch his picture every day/Where did he go/To the center of the universe/Where the legends promised him a home.” Sofia Talvik’s music feels like a call to reach out to everyone around us, and to hold onto whatever hope we have.

“A World Away” is a pretty song, and another where a strong sense of hope is key. In this one she sings, “The open road can take me anywhere/But never to where you are/I still hold on.” It’s a song about being on the road, and longing for home, and it’s about lost love. Then there is something catchy about “Two Thirds,” and you might find yourself humming along during certain sections. This song is about not settling, about loving full-force, and deserving to be loved that way in return. “She said if he loves you a little/You can make up for the rest/You can still have it good/Even if it ain’t the best.” Those are such sad lines. I love the drum work on this track. That’s followed by “Boy Soldier,” an intriguing song. As it begins, she could be talking about an actual soldier. But soon it becomes clear this is a different sort of war, a different sort of fight this young person finds himself in. Here Sofia Talvik is addressing domestic violence. She is a talented songwriter. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “She keeps a space behind the closet/If it gets bad she can hide you there/And if you’re sure she’s really lost it/You make sure it’s a family affair.”

“Meanwhile In Winnsboro” is another interesting song. While folks brace for the end of the world, the world keeps turning and the seasons continue, ignoring their efforts and worries. At the height of the pandemic, loneliness was a big problem for those who were isolated at home. And with the varying messages and information, it was an uncertain and frightening time. There were moments when it felt like the end, like when you visited the grocery store and found some shelves completely empty. “All the food you could eat/‘Til this virus is beat/Holed up in your house/‘Til you’re alone in the world.” At the end of the song she sings, “Meanwhile in Winnsboro/We can still pretend/This is not the end/Not the end of the world.” A different version of this song was included as a bonus track on the second version of the Paws Of A Bear album, which was released in 2020. Then in “Too Many Churches,” Sofia Talvik addresses another large problem, the role that religion plays versus the role that it could and should play, with the repeated line being “Too many churches and too little love.” I forget who said it, but years ago someone said that the problem with religion is that people leave church feeling that they’ve done something good rather than feeling inspired to do something good. And these days people use religion as some kind of weapon to attack basically anything they personally don’t like, opposing women’s health care (putting women’s lives at risk) and banning books. And they’re not doing much (if any) good. “And as I’m driving through the country/I see houses falling down/People living under bridges/But there’s five churches in that town.”

“Desert Nights” features a beautiful vocal performance, to match the beauty of the desert. Check out these lines, which begin the song: “The desert sun is going down/Painting shadows on the ground/I sing a lonely song I’ve found/In case you’d come on by/And find me through the sound.” This track also features some really nice guitar work. That’s followed by “Broken,” a moving and heartbreaking song of loss. “You always cried when songs were sad/You made me smile when I was blue/I think you would have cried right now/But now the tears are all for you.” And this is the best description of a friend succumbing to heart trouble: “And, darling, when your heart was breaking/You were breaking my heart too.” Like “Meanwhile In Winnsboro,” a different version of this song was included as a bonus track on Paws Of The Bear – Unplugged, where it was titled “Broken (Steelguitars In Heaven).” I like that additional vocal part at the beginning of this new version. Sofia Talvik then concludes the album with “Oh California,” a song that expresses mixed feelings about California, mixed feelings that many of us here share. But the main thrust of this one is looking back at good times with someone who is no longer there.

CD Track List

  1. Circle Of Destruction
  2. Center Of The Universe
  3. A World Away
  4. Two Thirds
  5. Boy Soldier
  6. Meanwhile In Winnsboro
  7. Too Many Churches
  8. Desert Nights
  9. Broken
  10. Oh California

Center Of The Universe was released on August 14, 2023.

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