CD REVIEW: Gypsy Lumberjacks - Pulling Upon The Strap
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Artist: Gypsy Lumberjacks
CD: Pulling Upon The Strap
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: Progressive Folk , Fusion, Gypsy Jazz, R&B, Psychedelic Bluegrass, Jam Band
Sounds Like: Dave Matthews Band, Paul McCartney, John Mayer, Deep Blue Something
Technical Grade: 7/10
Weakness: A few winded songs, winded intro, outros, Drums? More solo segments.
Gypsy Lumberjacks are a Minneapolis based Americana band with a sound consisting of a mix of World Beat, Flamenco, Caribbean, Gypsy Jazz and Bluegrass. With such a range of influences, there is something for everyone to latch on to in the music. Known for never performing with a set list, Gypsy Lumberjacks prefer to rely on each other’s leads and changes. This isn’t to say that the songs fall into a set pattern. The Lumberjacks rarely play a song the exact same way twice or in the same order. Even after touring relentlessly for nearly five years now, the older songs are still evolving and finding new life any given night they are performed. Not to mention that new songs are consistently being introduced into the repertoire (which now boasts nearly four hours of original music and countless covers). Their latest CD is called “Pulling Upon the Strap” )2014. Band members include: Leif Magnuson (Vocals, Acoustic Guitar), Peter Verdin (Electric Bass), Benn Karon, (Cajon, Percussion), Cliff Smyrl (Accordion), James Berget (Violin).
The CD kicks takes off with methodical “Chicha Fria” a smooth flowing intro piece that serves up slamming Americana fretwork, well placed percussion, meshed against thought provoking lyrical content and effective harmonies from Magnuson and company. Track 2 “Ploughman’s Blues” keeps things moving in the right direction with smooth Creole-type vibe served up against steady flowing rhythm, well placed accordion painted against a hooky chorus making for an impressive follow-up statement. Track 3 “Waltz of Bones” is another jumpy groove that dishes out dynamic rhythm, impressive vocal feel and impressive musical syncopation that flows and ebbs its way through to motional fruition. The CD makes a great first impression dashing out 3 amazing songs in a row. The musicianship of everyone involved is clearly above the bar. I would classify this music as Americana, Jam Band, Folk, Alternative Rock with brief touches of Progressive Folk and Fusion Gypsy Jazz, R&B to Psychedelic Bluegrass. Music is not easy to pigeonhole but is reminiscent of classic Dave Matthews Band, Paul McCartney, John Mayer, and Deep Blue Something. Besides the four piece standard one can also appreciate much in the way of lush instrumentation with things like Accordion, Percussive Accents, impressive rhythm guitar, Americana fretwork, strings, fiddles, solid guitar solos, lush harmonies layered everywhere all built upon a thick as a brick rhythm section. What I like the most about this band is how well they seem to groove together, testament to hundreds of hours of writing and rehearsal time no doubt. Now turning our attention over to Magnuson - as for his vocal abilities well he’s a great advent. His voice goes down smooth and fills the space peacefully and unobtrusively with a timber that is simply infectious. At times he really reminds me of Gregg Allman and even Joe Cocker behind the mic. I might add he takes some impressive vocal risks indicating to me a confident vocal ability. I like his power. All songs are extremely well crafted and consistent across the board - world class songwriting and instrumentation. This CD from Gypsy Lumberjacks delivers 9 solid tracks all providing musical enjoyment filled with strong musical variety and diversity. All production aspects (Mixing, Mastering) check out extremely well. CD has crystal clear high end punch and thick low end frequency. The music of The Gypsy Lumberjacks has everything you would expect from a world class musical production. From dynamic “Caspian’s March” to heartfelt “Miner’s Dross” to hypnotic “Elephant’s Underwear” to striking “Riversong” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with Track 9 “What You Wanted Here” the perfect finale statement for a CD like this
All songs over 3.5 minutes drag you to the finish line. A few tracks have excessive intros and outros, and a bit of musical meandering in them. Perhaps they should be trimmed up by 10%. Another interesting aspect to this band is there is no drummer present – just a percussionist. As a result some of the tracks lack a thick low end rhythmic foundation base. My recommendation – have your percussionist or guitarist play a kick drum like Mumford and Sons on all tracks. The occasional crash cymbal accent sounds real cheesy. CD title misses the mark for me and is not compatible with the cover art. Despite the Jam Band format I wish there were more in the way of solos throughout the CD.
From start to finish Pulling Upon the Strap by Gypsy Lumberjacks is an amazing collection of music. The songwriting – the gold standard, all consistent musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. Note for note, song for song there isn’t really weak piece on this entire catalog. The writing and playing abilities of Leif Magnuson and company are rock solid. The melodies and harmonies are well crafted, and the lyrical content is packed to the hilt with good old fashioned no holds barred R&B-Pop-Rock swagger. At the end of the day Gypsy Lumberjacks bring the mojo and is clearly a marquee talent based out of Minneapolis. One would be wise to keep a watchful eye on him as this Summer unfolds.