BUSTER SLEDGE – Nice Time On Earth Today (HCD7406)

Nice Time On Earth TodayBuster Sledge (great name) released Nice Time On Earth Today at the beginning of February. It’s their fourth album, but their first official release in the UK. It’s not often that you get an album that leaves you simultaneously with a smile on your face at the same time as a sense of awe for what’s been achieved. From the first play, that’s what Buster Sledge managed to do for me.

The playing is grand, (“a modern-day acoustic chamber-quartet of four voices, fiddle, banjo, guitar and contra-bass fronted by a Californian now living in in Oslo, with three Norwegians of diverse musical backgrounds”); the lyrics are remarkable (how about “That’s a mighty fine carrot on your fishing rod/I want it, yeah I want it real bad”) there are more profound lyrics but there’s something about this style of music that can draw you to a particular kind of lyric; it’s all delivered with a pace and supporting instrumentation that, at times, would make a speeded up Chet Atkins sound slow.

The music is probably best described as being based in bluegrass, but the band are rather more than that. Lead vocalist and fiddler Michael Donovan studied classical composition first. Vidar Starheimsæter on bass came to bluegrass via jazz, having started with prog-rock. Banjo player Mikael Jonassen first played fusion-jazz electric banjo before an acoustic one. Guitar player Jakob Ossum studied jazz guitar in college.

If that mix works together, it’s a pretty fair collection of skill and style – and it works well, in spades, as they would say in the 1920’s.

How to pick a track or two and suggest the skilfulness of the playing, perhaps highlight a particular phrase or instrumentation? You can’t. The four members of Buster Sledge intertwine their playing so skilfully that it would be like trying to pick out individual elements after a chemical reaction has created something entirely fresh and new.

What I will additionally mention, though, are the vocals. It’s not simply that Donovan’s voice and intonation are appealing (though this is the case), it’s also that all four of the band contribute to vocals that are as pacy and as harmonically welded together as their playing.

I can’t see any live events on their website right now – but YouTube shows some live playing and I imagine they’d decorate a few festival sets this summer if they got the chance.

Mike Wistow 

Artists’ website: https://www.bustersledge.com/home

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