These Swedes found punk rock too mainstream for their tastes, so they went for the ultimate grunge sound of American old-time mountain music.
They are adept at the genre with Kristian Herner’s banjo being exceptional. Peter Frovik’s guitar and Pontus Juth’s bass form a solid foundation for the band’s hard-driving approach, drawing heavily from the revivalist approach of such bands as the Horse Flies and the Red Hots. Dressed like the New Lost City Ramblers on the CD cover, they sound at times like a hip Kingston Trio with their harmony vocals. These guys rock the tunes with a vengeance.
Ralf Fredblad’s fiddle can play with pathos on mellower pieces like “Wayfaring Stranger,” and then careen wildly through faster pieces, all the while walking the ragged edge, veering to the nerve endings of the beat and coming back. His frenetic approach contrasts nicely with the solid drive of the remainder of the band.
Vocally, one would be hard-pressed to know they aren’t Yanks. Punctuated with growls and other guttural sounds where appropriate, they sing real well, with a respect for the material. “Wild Bill Jones” sounds as if derived from Mac Benford’s arrangement, with some interesting chords thrown in for affect. They do a respectable job on Washington Phillips’ “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today,” catching the old gospel sound. Here, they use an autoharp to catch the Dolceola sound that accompanied Phillips. Very few American old-time bands can sing like these guys.
While their “Down South Blues” will hardly make you want to give up your Dock Boggs recordings, it may bring Dock to the attention of other musicians who are looking for the true vine where the angst of life is put into musical form. Their fiddle tunes are danceable and infectious, and demonstrate musicianship of this tight band. So not only do they go back to the mountains and tap the Afro-American gospel songbook, but they also take on Cajun music and do a creditable job on “Convict Waltz,” where Fredblad’s fiddle flat nails it.
If you enjoy contemporary old-time music from all corners of the spectrum, or like what bands from a punk background do to traditional music, you’ll find a lot to like here. These guys are having a blast. While they call it bluegrass, we know it is really old-time with no respect for American stuffiness about the two related genres. They have toured the U.S., and one can only hope to cross paths with them one day and see them live. (Rockridge Brothers, Rosenlundgsgatan 30B, 118 53, Stockholm, Sweden, www.rockridgebrothers.com.) RCB