Singing is destiny for Sissel, and it makes perfect sense that the winsome Norwegian-born singer’s debut recording for Decca Records is self-titled. For the name “Sissel” is a Norwegian form of Cecilia – the patron saint of singers and singing – and the radiant, crystalline beauty of her voice more than fulfills that promise. The entire world discovered her when she dazzled audiences at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, where she was already a star. And now Sissel is making her long-awaited solo debut in the U.S. with the release of Sissel, a new recording of twelve luminous songs which blend the pop, folk and classical influences that inspire her.
Forget the labels, though. Sissel moves happily and effortlessly beyond them, with a voice she imagines as being “like a grand piano,” a solid, finely tuned instrument capable of an infinite range of music. For Sissel, that could be anything, from classical to folk. “I like music that I think is beautiful, music that touches me,” she says simply. “When the music touches me, I want to do it.”
That simple formula explains the seemingly effortless charm of Sissel. Its selection of songs seems to grow out of those “grand piano” possibilities in the singer’s remarkably expressive voice. To create the perfect chemistry for Sissel, the album is co-produced by Elliot Scheiner and Rob Mounsey. Scheiner is a 16-time Grammy nominee and one of the industry’s most sought-after producers and engineers, whose eclectic list of credits includes projects with Steely Dan, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Lenny Kravitz, Etta James, Diana Krall and most recently, Faith Hill. Three-time Grammy nominee Mounsey has worked with Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Lyle Lovett, Keb’ Mo’ and the aforementioned Steely Dan and James Taylor.
From the traditional American classic “Shenandoah” to a luminous new song Sissel co-wrote, “Sarah’s Song,” named for her daughter, Sissel showcases the singer in performances with a natural grace and lilting beauty that would seem to be the very definition of music itself. “It’s all very basic, down-to-earth, very simple,” Sissel describes the album.
“Sarah’s Song,” the opening track – a tenderly joyous lullaby-in-reverse, sung as if an infant is wishing her mother the sweetest dreams – sets the tone for the whole album, uncomplicated in its warmth, personal yet universal in its affection. The bell-like clarity of Sissel’s voice seems to reflect what she sings about. To be sure, there’s a sharp edge to be found here, as well: “Can’t Go Back” is a friend-to-friend, tough-love anthem of support in a time of heartbreak and loss. But Sissel’s voice smiles unforgettably in gentler moments, such as the lilting “All Good Things,” with its assurance of grace and fulfillment, and in the kind urging of “Carrier of a Secret,” a song about releasing the secrets that hold us back. Basic, down-to-earth, very simple – and purely sung.
Sissel also features a couple of fascinating covers. The traditional American song “Shenandoah” takes on a fresh radiance in Sissel’s new version, one that resonates later in the album with the haunting Norwegian song “Lær meg å kjenne.” And Neil Sedaka’s “Solitaire” (a chart-topping hit for The Carpenters back in the 1970s) proves to be a sublime vehicle for the singer’s impressive range, her voice stretching luxuriantly across Sedaka’s soaring melody. The album concludes with the voice alone, wordless, in the lyrical “Molde Canticle,” a wistful tune that might be Scandinavian, Celtic or Appalachian – universal, in the end, and mesmerizing.
The release of Sissel brings the singer to an exciting new turn in an already amazing career. Tenor Plácido Domingo first worked with Sissel in 1994, when they recorded “Fire In Your Heart,” the official song of the Lillehammer Olympic Games. Enchanted with her “pure, beautiful sound,” he has invited her to sing “Ave Maria” with him on an upcoming recording of sacred songs. Sissel is also a favorite of Paddy Moloney and the Irish folk group The Chieftains, singing in Gaelic on their album The Long Journey Home and also joining the band onstage for a memorable visit to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Hundreds of millions of filmgoers know Sissel’s voice from her ethereal solos that haunt the James Horner’s Oscar-winning score for Titanic, the most successful film ever made. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “It’s a good bet that when legions of filmgoers, including the teenage Titaniacs, leave the movie theater, it’s the evocative vocals of Norway’s Sissel … that linger in their minds and hearts.”
At home in Scandinavia, Sissel has been a household name for years, selling some five million copies of her solo-albums, which have been certified gold and platinum in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. “An impeccably rendered modern collection of Nordic folk tunes that ranks with the absolute best of Enya for a transporting, otherworldly ethnic atmosphere,” Billboard wrote of her 1994 album Innerst i sjelen (Deepest Within My Soul), adding, “this is easily one of the finest albums – and hottest finds – of 1994.”
“I hope that when people listen to my music, it allows them to disappear for a moment,” Sissel says of her new recording. “Because that’s what it does for me. It puts me in a wonderful mood, soothes me. I just hope it makes people happy. I hope it makes them smile. Because I just can’t help singing. I have to sing.”
Has destiny ever sounded so sweet?