As soon as the first track of pedal steel guitarist Maggie Bjorkland's "Shaken" begins, listeners are invited to a spectral ballet that does little to prepare them for the eclectic and emotional sounds ahead.
Alternating between instrumentals and lyrical songs, Bjorkland's album plays like the eerie soundtrack to an indie film - plot-driven, but with a keen investment in the humanity behind it. Elements of horror, redemption and sadness carry through the melodies and poetry of the album. "I'm a coward who wants to yell / I'm a warrior who lost the war but still wants to fight" she writes in "Bottom of the Well," exhibiting her ability to spin lyrics that hold enough angst to provoke thought more than eye-rolls.
"Shaken's" cinematic style could be seen as a gimmick if not for the authentic emotion behind both the individual pieces and album as a whole. The Dane composed much of it as she watched her mother die, which especially shows in the final track. "Teach Me How to Say Goodbye" acts as the final credits that roll as the audience reflects on the message of letting go.
It's not all doom and gloom, however; in fact, most of it is evocative without being depressing. "Name in the Sand" stands out for its Sheryl Crow-style pop feel, which makes it feel both out of place and like an emotional intermission in the middle of the album. Instrumental pieces carry listeners through portrait-lined halls in "Amador" and down rural lanes in a song fittingly called "The Road to Samarkand."
This CD is a prime example of a musician who let experiences and emotions guide her work. Listening to it seems almost intrusive, like reading a stranger's diary, and yet the warmth in her sound invites open ears as she bares emotional scars and hopes for redemption in every chord.