A somber European trio who plays a decidedly American form of rootsy rock, Midnight Choir has steadily built not only a fervent fan base, but a unique take on Americana as well. The trio of Paal Flaata (vocals/guitar), Ron Olsen (acoustic and electric bass), and Al DeLoner (guitar and various other instruments) began in Norway with the less-serious name of the Hashbrowns -- busking and occasionally playing club gigs until they were heard by veteran keyboard player Lasse Hafreager. Perhaps uncertain with the prospects of hinging a possible music career on the name Hashbrowns, the group decided to seek out a new name. Reverent historians of folk and rock -- and not afraid to wear their influences on their collective sleeve -- Midnight Choir took their new name from Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire." The depth of their knowledge and reverence to rock history were confirmed when they traveled to Texas to record their debut under the guidance of guitarist Andrew Hardin. Best-known as the musical partner of singer/songwriter Tom Russell, Hardin is as highly respected as he is obscure. Two years later the group approached another of their folk heroes, Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts, to produce their second album. Eckman was intrigued by the Scandinavians' take on Americana and recording commenced -- this time in Seattle, WA -- on their 1996 release, Olsen's Lot. Aided by fellow Walkabout Carla Torgerson, the production of Olsen's Lot found Midnight Choir settling into their own sound and, with strings featuring heavily on many of the tracks, taking full advantage of the studio as well. Despite a lukewarm response from the media and a canceled tour, Olsen's Lot was able to equal their debut commercially and garnered the group a Spellemannpris (Norwegian Grammy) nomination. In 1998, Chris Eckman was brought in to produce their next record along with Phill Brown, a noted engineer who is best-known for his work on Talk Talk's landmark Spirit of Eden album. The result, Amsterdam Stranded, was a well-written, confident recording that outsold its predecessors and earned praise both in Norway and abroad. Eckman and Brown continued working with Midnight Choir on Unsung Heroine from 2000 and brought in former Talk Talk members Tim Friese-Greene and Lee Harris for the louder, rock-leaning 2003 release Waiting for the Bricks to Fall. ~ Wade Kergan
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