BUSTER SLEDGE: EXPLORING THE OUTER REACHES OF AMERICAN TRADITIONAL MUSIC
Nice Time on Earth Today, the third full-length release from the Oslo-based Norwegian/American acoustic wonder-group Buster Sledge, runs the gamut of American folk and popular music styles while on a mission to tell you a story in each song. With a firm starting point in a Bluegrass-inspired Americana sound, they eclectically incorporate elements from, e.g., jazz, country and indie. Though in this way the musical backdrop is continuously shifting, the lyrics are always up-front and delivered via hummable melody. Moments of reckless abandon and maximalism explode through unexpected chord changes, grandiose arrangements, and wild solos though the backdrop remains tight-knit and controlled. Or as summed up by a friend of the band: Buster Sledge is new-time upbeat sadgrass melancholicana.
The lyrical style of songwriter and lead vocalist and fiddler Michael Donovan is influenced by his upbringing in a dusty sprawling central-Californian multicultural commuter town, situated on a highway between factories and farms:
– The pressing seriousness of the work people moved there for and the darkness of people being separated from their families was silhouetted by the playfulness with which those people worked and their enthusiasm for sharing their cultures; the whole thing made a big impression on me – especially going on myself to move to other places for work. I spent time in New York City before moving to Norway, where I studied classical composition before getting drawn into the bluegrass/folk scene via playing in a Grateful Dead cover-stringband. It was hard not to note how connected all of the songs and musicians were in genres I previously thought had greater gulfs between them. I wanted to capture some part of that breadth of experience in my writing on Nice Time on Earth Today and share some of the things through that that I am thankful to have experienced, says Donovan.
The band’s Norwegian members all share a love for traditional American music, having grown up outside of it, and having had to find their way in by whatever means. Mikael Jonassen, largely self-taught, fell in love with the banjo as a youth in the north of Norway but didn’t start playing traditional bluegrass banjo until after having spent a few years playing fusion-jazz electric banjo. Jakob Folke Ossum, turned on to bluegrass by a friend while studying jazz guitar in college, bought an acoustic guitar and with his methodical and creative approach to music was quickly down the road to native proficiency. Vidar Starheimsæter, originally a “prog-rock guy” and son of rural dairy farmers, began playing jazz on contrabass in college and was later introduced to bluegrass music through friends.
The album art by William Hay draws its inspiration from the American folk-art memorial quilting style and captures the episodic nature of the songs in twelve panels – each with their own two-dimensional renaissance-esque scene – on the back of the case. The album was produced and recorded by Sjur Lyseid (of Little Hands of Asphalt) in Globus Studios in Oslo. His contributions to the sound-design as well as vocal and lyrical coaching were an important part of the creation of the record. The album was mastered by Håvard Christensen and will be released on Heilo Records September 1st 2023.