This review marks the first installment from a new contributor, Stu Vincent. Stu will help us stay abreast of the European bluegrass scene, and we thank him for his efforts to do so.
Let me start with a very simple statement – Scandinavian Bluegrass is HOT!!
Brokeland Bullets from Norway came second only to Dunderhead at the European World of Bluegrass event in 2014 and have now followed up their debut album (Brokeland) with Heartbroke.
Brokeland Bullets are Jan Richard Pianski (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Espen Svenungsen (banjo, vocals), Sondre Ljoså (Bass, vocals), Paul Oddvang (dobro), Per Waagø (violin) and Johannes Selvaag (mandolin). The band declare that their music is bluegrass with the influences from country and folk and a very pleasing combination that is too.
My biggest surprise was hearing a version of Don Williams’ Best Friend, then realising that I found it better than the original. I do realise that expressing such an opinion may result in me never being allowed into Nashville, but I will take that risk.
Best Friend, starts with an introduction on clawhammer banjo and then progresses with some great mandolin, harmonica and singing and avoids being over-sentimental (or slow, as heard on many versions of this song).
>Du Og Eg (You And I) and Heidi are both sung in Norwegian. Du Og Eg: I may (once again) risk my safety by saying that this track has almost a pop feel to it; if I were the band, I would be tempted to release this as a single and see what happens. The ‘pop’ comment is meant kindly – the playing on the track is perfectly balanced and has some light, clean five-string banjo playing backing up the mandolin, fiddle and beautiful harmony singing. Heidi starts with clawhammer and fiddle and shows the folk influences of the band. As with other tracks, there is an energy with the performance that reminds me of early Avett Brothers – great song.
After Du Og Eg, Tell You Why starts slowly and darkly and then burst into life that would be certain to see audiences on their feet or listeners reaching for the volume to turn it up. From the instrumental of Brokedown to No Matter What (why can I imagine the Grateful Dead playing this?), and all of the other tracks that I have not mentioned, Heartbroke is a wonderful, varied album displaying the undoubted talents of Brokeland Bullets.