The Gypsy Lumberjacks – Giants of America
The Gypsy Lumberjacks are a four piece band from Minneapolis, Minnesota which consists of guitarist and vocalist Leif Magnuson, bassist Peter Verdin, Ben Karon who plays Cajon and various percussion, and finally Cliff Smyrl on accordion and vocals. On their Facebook page, they classify themselves at “Non-traditional bluegrass, world, Americana”.
I think most people would define Gypsy Lumberjacks as Americana, and that’s not necessarily incorrect, however they are far more than just your average folk meets Americana band. Additionally, I would go as far as to categorize them as a world band. Leif, Peter, Ben and Cliff just released “Giants of America”, an eight track record rich of sounds reminiscent from home and far away. While music is very subjective, if you are even slightly interested in genres like folk, Americana, World, bluegrass – then this record is for you. As an added bonus, there are suggestions of jazz, even reggae. Leif Magnuson really knows not just how to play guitar well, but also how to do so in such a warm way that invites people in. He’s entertaining and rather lively. His guitar playing style is soaked in good ole Americana, which is very rhythmic in style. Peter Verdin on bass compliments this effortlessly with a low end walking bass line that never seems to end. This very fashion is how they begin this record with the first song, “Raise Your Dram”. The following track, “Battles of the Frontiers” is a classic folk sing along, just as the title may suggest. Leif swoons with his smooth and at times breathy vocals, which somehow seem familiar. Want to hear some of that jazz I mentioned? Skip ahead to “Elevators”. A definite highlight of “Giants of America” this track features some of the absolute most flawless guitar playing you’ll hear on this record. Leif displays his mastery of technical jazz and flamenco guitar. However, this song is so much more than Leif, as he is just one unit. I’ve already mentioned Peter’s contribution on bass, which is very evident in this track as well. One final thing about this track that I love so much is the expert use of percussion. When most people think about world bands, they most likely envision professionally trained percussionists. Ben is a gold standard what it means to be a percussionist of a world band as he utilizes a large number of sounds to support the rest of the band.
The real question is this: Are Gypsy Lumberjack really giants of America? That’s what this album cover suggests. The answer is….not quite, but perhaps soon. However, they should remain very pleased with what they’ve created. There is some rather remarkable and worthwhile musicianship to be found in these eight tracks. While some songs may feel like just fun light hearted tunes, to someone else they may be very significant – and that’s the very beauty of music. It can mean a million different things to a million different people and “Giants of America” is no exception to that rule.
Scott Wigley, edited by Mindy McCall.