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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Norway's Foremost Female Blues Musicians, Rita Engedalen & Margit Bakken Release 'My Precious Blues'

By Stevie Connor.

For 20 years, Women In Blues, Norway's foremost female Blues musicians, Rita Engedalen and Margit Bakken have paid homage to the lives of some of the most spirited women in the history of Blues music.

In their own familiar and beloved style, Engedalen and Bakken with their new album "My Precious Blues", earnestly bring recognition to outstanding blues women and their talents. The album is personal, portraying powerful musical encounters with impressive female sources of insight and inspiration.

Six of the 11 songs recorded on "My Precious Blues" are new material written by the Grande Dame of European Blues herself, the Norwegian "Grammy" multi-nominated and 2006 winner Rita Engedalen.

In her seven solo albums, Rita has included the songs of female blues champions. All the way through Rita’s songs on 'My Precious Blues' one can hear the recurring cry for hope and justice within her lyrics, such as in "Let Freedom Come" and "Nobody Can Take My Soul."

"My Precious Blues" is a musical journey of songs that span a vast landscape, extending from intimate acoustic to the emotionally charged language of risqué rhythms, along with the sounds of driving Blues expression and powerful Gospel moods! While the album has its own personal lyrics, it also includes songs by some of the leading women of the blues.

For all the 20 years that Women In Blues have been on the road, Morten Omlid has held the position of Blues guitarist extraordinaire. Morten is one of Norway's best-known blues guitarists, possessing a deep understanding, commitment, and passion for authentic blues. Rita and Margit made the trip to Snaxville Studio, where they gained new inspiration from Amund and Henrik Maarud.

Three of the songs on "My Precious Blues" have been recorded with the brothers there, resulting in a new and exciting musical encounter! The female Blues pioneers have been a great inspiration for Women In Blues, while Rita and Margit’s musical hearts beat with warmth and strength for each one of them, their music is masterly woven in these personal tributes and interpretations of these greats' songs. The duet "Strugglin' Woman's Blues" is one of these songs. It was originally recorded by Blues singer Clara Smith and "Her Five Black Kittens" in 1927. Clara Smith was one of the first female Blues pioneers, dominating the "race music" market in the early 1920s, at a time when recording opportunities first opened for African-American artists.

Also on the new album, Margit Bakken interprets Alberta Hunter's "You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark". "The song has a satirical text, filled with sex appeal, irony, and humour. The text clearly has an underlying message and, at its core, a deep, painful realization. At the time of Alberta’s recording of the song in 1935, it was not released; many years had to pass before it was possible for its release", says Margit Bakken.

It was the women who dominated Blues music in the 1920s! Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Clara Smith, and Bessie Smith were some of the first to pave the way, opening doors for other African-American female artists. "They were known for their use of varied and diverse text, which, among other things, highlighted injustice, racial discrimination, political challenges, and the fight for justice. Each having a strong voice, which we value highly and believe is essential to call attention to. These women were, and still are, great role models for us and many others", says Rita Engedalen.

During this anniversary year, Women In Blues have, once again, journeyed back to Clarksdale and Memphis. Rita and Margit have visited the two communities several times in the past and look forward to returning. Once again, bringing home music recorded in the Clarksdale Soundstage Studio. This time recording together with Gospel singer Ester Mae Wilbourn, who is known for her work with the former "Como Mamas from North Mississippi" trio, Ester's powerful Gospel voice can be heard on Engedalen's "I Will Be Ready", a personal song dedicated to all women and mothers who feel the Blues in their lives.

Women In Blues have definitely earned a strong position in the Blues community. In addition to numerous concerts in their home country of Norway, they have been guests at many international festivals in Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the USA. They are especially proud to have performed at the legendary Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale (2015), where they received a very warm and gracious reception for their musical undertakings.

While both Rita and Margit are guitarists, it is with their eloquent vocal mastery that they display their strong Blues roots. Intertwining voices that complement each other exceptionally well! During their performances, the duo performs their own songs as well as songs from some of the ladies who have made a strong mark in Blues, Folk, Soul, Gospel, and Rock.

A year ago, Rita Engedalen released her seventh solo album, "Sun Will Come" and with great satisfaction, this album was nominated for the Spellemannpris (2022) in the Best Blues Album category. In 2012, the duo released their first album together, "Broken Soul Blues", which garnered many good reviews both in Norway and internationally. Throughout the years, there have been many concerts and collaborations with both Norwegian and international female artists.

Women In Blues first met while working on Kristin Berglund's musical project "Bluesens Tøffe Damer" in 2003. Through this collaboration, Kristin became an important and inspiring friend. Unfortunately, Kristin Berglund passed away in 2006.

On "My Precious Blues," it was decided to include one of Berglund's intimate and beautiful songs, "Your Secret Box of Mysteries". Contributors on the album: Margit Bakken (vocals and acoustic guitar), Rita Engedalen (vocals and acoustic guitar), Morten Omlid (acoustic and electric guitar), Knut Hem (drums and percussion), Bård Gunnar Moe (bass), Amund Maarud (guitar, bass, organ and banjo), Henrik Maarud (drums and percussion), Ester Mae Wilbourn (chorus and vocals), Thea Sørlie Paulsrud (chorus), Jostein Forsberg (harmonica), Runar Boyesen (piano), Espen Liland (Weissenborn), Helene Waage (cello).

The album was mixed by Christian Engfelt at Studio Paradiso and mastered by George Tanderø. The songs were recorded at the Juke Joint Studio at Notodden, Snaxville Studio, and at the Clarksdale Soundstage. (Ester Mae Wilbourn vocals).

"My Precious Blues" is produced by Rita Engedalen together with co-producer Margit Bakken. The album is released by Bluestown Records in Notodden.

"The female Blues pioneers must not be forgotten; their stories and voices are too strong for that, and their lyrics are still relevant to society today," say Margit Bakken and Rita Engedalen from Women In Blues, who are this year celebrating their 20th anniversary.

Rita Engedalen has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards for her musical work over the years:

• Spellemannpris for BLUES in 2006, for her album "Heaven Ain't Ready For Me Yet"

• The Blues Award at the Notodden Blues Festival (2010)

• The Rolf Gammleng Award (2010)

• Kongsberg City's Medal of Merit (2011)

• Buskerud County Artist Award (2012)

• Winner of the European Blues Challenge (2012)

• Inducted into Notodden's "Blues Walk of Fame" (2016)




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