Finnish musician Jussi Syren and his band the Groundbreakers have been mining their music since 1995, not only emulating an authentic bluegrass sound but also mining it to the max under their own auspices. They’ve toured Europe and several states in the US, all the while remaining true to their mantra and tapping into a traditional template that Syren first learned while listening to Armed Forces Radio growing up in the early ‘50s.
In the liner notes to their impressive new album, Bluegrass Headquarters, Syren quotes the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, as saying no other music has the drive that bluegrass possesses, and that to Syren himself, it boasts an emotion and intensity that, when played correctly, grabs the listener and makes an everlasting impression.
Of course, that’s all too true, and Syren and company prove the point here. When the assertive sound of Stay True to Your Heart kicks in at the outset of the album, further proof is no longer needed. Even so, Syren remains intent on driving the point home. The rousing and joyful title track, the double time frenzy of Billy Joe Shaver’s I Been To Georgia on a Fast Train and the jam-like Drop C Ride reinforce the distinct notion that this band is wholly committed to giving it their all. Amazingly too, Syren sings in a style that’s decidedly down home; on the aptly named Ode to Bluegrass Mandolin, he sounds like he just arrived in the studio straight from the American heartland. Likewise, when he takes on a topical though sometimes turbulent theme with Put the Bible Back in School Rooms, his immersion in the American mainstream spills over to its outer banks.
To further ensure authenticity, Syren says that the band recorded the album live with minimal overdubs. That indeed proved a good tack to take. Not only does it make for a spontaneous sound, but it also offers an intimacy that finds the musicians seemingly feeding off each other and elevating their enthusiasm all at the same time. The ultimate result is one of the freshest and most riveting outings heard in quite some time. While they may not be groundbreakers in the strictest sense, they’re obviously adept at tilling traditional terrain.