The Gypsy Lumberjacks – Giants of America
The Gypsy Lumberjacks, a widely praised four (and sometimes six) piece live act, have been wowing crowds for a few years from their Minneapolis base. Their latest album, Giants of America, is an eight song collection that highlights their considerable songwriting talents alongside their lights-out instrumental prowess. This is a band free from imitation – they aren’t pursuing a commercial sound, but like true artists will, chase after a far more intimate vision that finds expression in their colorful stew of musical influences. As well, main songwriter Leif Magnunson emerges from this album as a powerful lyricist of growing importance.
His poetic skills are in full evidence on the opening track, “Raise Your Dram”. Some listeners might squirm a little with his appropriation of imagery that verges on cliché, but he frames the song’s subject in fresh language that devotees of this musical genre will likely admire. The musical backing is precise without ever squeezing all of the air out of the piece. “Battles of the Frontiers” has an evocative, almost film-like feel only strengthened by another strong narrative-based lyric. Magnunson’s songwriting sensibility has certainly served a long apprenticeship acquainting itself with the classic imagery of such songs, but it never sounds like pastiche musically or lyrically. “Chasing the Sun” indulges itself with some familiar imagery, but the band plays with such clear assurance that it wraps itself up in a nicely realized composition. Nothing is out of place here. The music, vocal, and text have an ideal balance that sounds easy to achieve.
“Kill a Man” takes a darker turn than previous efforts, but the band’s songwriting never devolves into melodrama. Instead, there’s the steady voice of a clearly drawn character that comes out of Magnunson’s vocal and lyric. The light feel of the music juxtaposed with the grimmer subject matter makes the track additionally memorable. “Migration” is reminiscent, in some ways, of the earlier song “Battles of the Frontiers” in how it creates a memorably vivid musical landscape for an equally vivid lyric. It’s a great penultimate song for Giants of America that serves to remind listeners one last time that this outfit has talent and ambition in equal measure. “Love Her in the Morning”, on the other hand, reminds listeners that this band can manifest an equally playful side.
The Gypsy Lumberjacks have a diverse, lively musical thrust that embraces convention without ever becoming beholden to it. This is an album for purists and novices alike because the band always keeps things accessible. There are moments when the album seems to lose its focus, but they are scattered and of brief duration.
8 out of 10 stars
– Lance Wright