The Scandinavian bluegrass band that calls itself Buster Sledge possesses a certain savvy when it comes to making their music. That’s especially evident on their new album from Grappa Musikkforlag, the happily titled Nice Time On Earth Today. Given the fact that indeed, things don’t always seem so nice on the planet we inhabit, the group does well to purvey a joyful sound, while also keeping things casual in terms of their delivery and presentation.
Comprised of singer and fiddler Michael Barrett Donovan — the band’s token American — and his bandmates — guitarist Jakob Folke Ossum, banjo picker Mikael Jonassen, and bassist Vidar Starheimsæter — Buster Sledge effectively fuses the traditions of Norwegian folk music with the accoutrements of Appalachian string band tradition. Although they achieve a certain synchronicity, Buster Sledge also boasts a distinctive sound that can’t be contained within any particular parameters. The songs tend to be wordy and somewhat verbose, but the music comes across as carefree and, in the case of a song such as Last Day of the Worst Year, even somewhat giddy.
Fall Like Crumbs, on the other hand, is decidedly off-kilter, a collision of ideas and instrumentation that almost seems avant-garde. Then again, Buster Sledge are all about full expression. “There was a hard truth you couldn’t swallow right away so you froze it,” they declare on opening track Way Too Pretty. “And that affords you a couple of months of acting like it wasn’t you who chose it.”
That didactic stance pervades the album overall, but rarely detracts from the sweeter sounds that characterize Warm and Stupid, and the double time drive found in Saddle Up the Fence, the latter of which puts its emphasis on some aforementioned folk finesse. Likewise, the jaunty Cold Wet Blanket shares a distinctive diatribe, but its upbeat attitude is the thing that stands out overall. New Sock, the track that’s especially sparse in terms of lyrical content, is also the song that makes the most immediate impact.
That’s not to say Donovan’s material is convoluted by any means, but he seemingly has plenty of thoughts to express and won’t be deterred. “No one’s gonna ride as slow as me,” he insists on the otherwise affable New Shoes. “I always wanted to be good at something.”
Clearly he’s out to prove the point. The songs often come across as free-flowing philosophic statements, which makes another of their folkier tunes, like Spring In Her Step, all the more appealing. Still, the savvy and sophistication that characterize Buster Sledge’s music overall can’t be denied. Credit them with creating a sound that bends the boundaries while still adhering to the spirit and sentiment of its archival origins.
Nice Time On Earth Today releases on September 1.