The Gypsy Lumberjacks release Giants of America

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Roots music never charts or captures the zeitgeist much, but despite revolutionary changes in our world over the last half century, new generations of musicians from every walk of life have gravitated to folk music from a wide variety of sources. The Gypsy Lumberjacks, a Minneapolis based musical collective ranging from four to six members, have established a solid reputation as one of the most adventurous live acts plying their wares today, but their second album Giants of America solidifies any claim they might make to being songwriting and musical leaders in their area. The album’s eight tracks accomplish this not through slavish devotion to the past, but by bringing a modern perspective to bear on traditional musical elements, history, and songwriting conventions often established centuries before.

They prove themselves skilled at refurbishing hoary imagery in the first song, “Raise Your Dram”. Instead of taking the Flogging Molly route and combing the lyric with some stomping backing track, the song moves at a brisk pace but keeps the bulk of its focus on details. There’s a dark undercurrent laced through the track, but the music has such relentless energy that it counters any dispiriting effects. “Battles of the Frontiers” has a wonderfully western aura that may or may not match the lyric entirely, but like many great songwriters, nothing is ever so defined in a Lumberjacks’ song that the listener isn’t free to arrive at his or her own interpretations of its meaning. “Chasing the Sun” reveals more of these dark undercurrents percolating through the opening track and has another strong, even poetic lyric.

Despite sporting a lyric about excess and longing for redemption, “Bad Boy” introduces listeners to a lighter side of the band’s musical talent. The relatively upbeat musical backing here gives the song the feeling that it’s winking at you throughout, nudging you to see if you get the joke about how ridiculous the narrator sounds. “Elevators” is a sudden detour into purely instrumental territory and showcases a band capable of stunning stylistic turns that never sound forced. Magnuson’s guitar playing is frequently eye-popping, but never unnecessarily gaudy.
“Migration” carries a more somber air than many of the album’s earlier tracks and keeps its musical sophistication relatively muted to help better support the album’s best lyric.

Giants of America is an impressive statement that stays on point, entertains, and engages the listener’s imagination. It challenges the listener with a complete approach emphasizing musical skill and strong storytelling. This is a band in likely constant artistic evolution and this phase in their development is a rewarding experience.


Score: 9 out of 10 stars

William Elgin III