One band that I did get to see at IBMA last month that really impressed me was G2, a young quintet from Sweden who won the 2007 European Band of the Year Award, announced at the EBMA European World of Bluegrass festival in May.
Brance and I caught one of their after hours showcase performances, and ran across them jamming with some of the Infamous Stringdusters on another occasion at the Sugar Hill Records suite. They are all impressively talented players, all the more so for the adeptness and intimate familiarity with the nuances of modern bluegrass given that they are all still in their twenties, and grew up far from where bluegrass festivals and fiddlers conventions are common.
Like American musicians who dedicate themselves to styles associated with other cultures – like Celtic or Gypsy swing – and get to travel to where the music is native, the guys in G2 were all excited to visit the US this year for the first time as a band, and even more so to be attending the IBMA convention. They only had the opportunity to play a few small showcases this year, but will be an invited main stage showcase act at IBMA 2008, and could make a big splash next year in Nashville.
Their debut CD, Where The Tall Grass Grows was released this week (11/7), which not only demonstrates their technical prowess as bluegrass pickers, but also the songwriting skills of guitarist and primary vocalist Christoffer Olsson.
Olsson wrote all but three of the thirteen songs, with themes that will be familiar to people anywhere, but with a decided emphasis on rural and/or small town life that is so much a part of the bluegrass idiom. In a nod towards the American roots of this now truly international art form, one of his songs is Going Back To Georgia. At IBMA last month, I overheard someone asking if he ever wrote songs in Swedish, whereupon he responded that, no, he didn’t… “because you can’t rhyme in Swedish.”
His vocal style is distinctive as well, owing as much to Chris Thile as Lester Flatt, and he delivers his songs with passion and conviction.
Band members include Tobias Str??mberg on resonator guitar, Jimmy Sunnebrandt on bass, Olsson on guitar, Erik Igelstr??m on mandolin, and Jens Koch on banjo. Each is solid throughout, but to my ear, Koch on banjo stands out notably for his consistently clear tone and flawless execution. He wrote the project’s lone instrumental, Crossroads Turnaround, where he channels Ron Stewart to a remarkable degree.
Audio samples can be found on the G2 website, where you can also purchase downloads or order the CD for mail delivery. In talking with the band, they mentioned that they had tried to price the CD as competitively as they could since international shipping is more costly ($4.50 to USA and ‚Ç¨3.50 to Europe), but the current exchange rates between the US dollar and the Euro have made that difficult.
I’ll admit to a certain bias, as I have been following this bunch for over a year, and consider banjo picker Jens Koch to be a friend, but this has become one of my favorite new CDs, one that I hope bluegrass fans and radio hosts worldwide will give some serious consideration.