The Gypsy Lumberjacks -Giants of America
It’s a fine thing to hear a Gypsy Lumberjacks album. Few bands combine versatility with substantive songwriting in such a satisfying way. While the band proclaims themselves to be non-traditional and, instead, an almost fusion-esque melding of disparate forms into an unified whole, labels aren’t necessary. There’s traditional elements their new album, Giants of America, but there’s always a forward-looking feeling. It suggests, in their own small way, that the songwriting and musical brain trust guiding this band fully realize that for roots or folk music to escape the fate of butterflies pinned in museum display cases, new artists must step forward to revitalize its conventions with modern sonics and a fearlessness to stretch out.
“Raise a Dram” is a good example of this process in action. The band’s songwriting rifles through traditional tropes for its imagery and phrases familiar themes in invigorating ways. Leif Magnuson’s emotive vocal never raises the bar too high and pushes the lyric into the crass, but instead highlights the genuine literary merit in the band’s writing. “Battles of the Frontiers” shows off the band’s storytelling strengths and the fitting musical accompaniment remains understated and serves the song. “Bad Boy” takes the band into lighter territory, but the musical sophistication never slackens. Instead, there’s tremendous pleasure in hearing such a talented group of players free enough from pretension that they can gently chide the dissolute behavior described in the lyric without ever sounding ham-fisted, put-on, or overly judgmental.
“Elevators” gives The Gypsy Lumberjacks a chance to let their chops fly free and they don’t hesitate. The real star here is Leif Magnuson’s guitar playing, but its Flamenco strained flourishes never obscure the other stellar performances completely. The rhythm section keeps things fluid, yet consistent, in this sparkling instrumental. The song’s last big screen track, “Migration”, is final weighty track that empathizes the band’s lyrical depth. Few songwriters in the genre today can match Magnuson’s command of traditional language.
Giants of America seems, at first glance and pass, rather limited. The eight songs are all relatively modest in length and, excepting the album’s lone instrumental, share equal billing with their lyrical inventiveness. While the album is quite fun and an ultimately satisfying listen, it’s hard not to wish the band reached a little further in the studio and challenged themselves even more. It’s clear, however, that this is a band that will have much more to say and offer in coming years.
8 out of 10 stars
Robert E. Fulford