The amazing band New Sweden describe their sound as “American music” and that vague description could not be better. From the opening track of this latest EP, it’s evident that these musicians have spent a lot of time with real American music. Reflecting country, bluegrass, and all sorts of earthy genres, this is one of my favorite finds of 2013.
“Way Up North,” the opener, is a joyful mix of happy chords and collective vocals over a delightful banjo and fiddle sound. It’s a great song. The rhythm keeps toes tapping, while the vocals encourages us to all sing along. “Outside these walls the sky is falling…” Even going so far as to reference a sort of popular religious ethos, the band tips its hat to many of the great American art forms even in the first song.
The second song has a minimalist beginning, yet ventures into a joyous full sound not unlike the first. Attempting to connect with a European vibe, “Chanson de Train” utilizes a mix of accordion and harmonic vocals to introduce the listener to a nostalgic element. While the vocal lead does not hold the same feeling as the collective present on the opener, there’s a definitive Americana sound even with ample reference to Europe. It’s comfortable and different in all the right ways.
The harmonica on “Down the Line” makes the song even at the beginning. With a plodding rhythm much like the cowboy songs of the wild west, this track has characteristics of a thoroughly western version of country music. The mix of vocal blending and banjo plucking puts it in a category along with bluegrass, but it does so with a completely different style. As near as I can figger (that’s a word I feel like I should use on this review) this song is about looking forward to an uncertain future.
“I was born a workin’ man’s son. I’m afraid a workin’ man’s all I’ve become. And I can’t stand to have calloused hands… strong enough to fall too rough for love.” Although these guys are from the other side of my native state (Pennsylvania), they’ve done a good job in this song of capturing a particular blue collar ethic that always gets me. I really appreciate the connections between history, biography, and the relationship between hard work and love. This is a nice group singing, barroom sing-a-long jam. This is what you wish someone would put on the jukebox instead of “Sweet Home Alabama” for the four thousandth time.
What I enjoy most about this album is its start-to-finish panache. There’s an evident devil-may-care attitude here that really makes the songs work. You get the sense, much like the Avett Brothers, that these guys would play just as energized a show to 10 of their friends as a 1000 person room. That “love of the art” enthusiasm is evident in nearly every note. Oh, they are some pretty awesome notes, too. I’d call this a must listen for fans of Americana broadly and a must-buy for fans of the Avett Brothers or the Felice Brothers.