Album Review – Dag Erik Oksvold’s “Back Then”

Those who really know their country music stuff, they know to keep one eye on country releases from the Scandinavian market, which has been a treasure trove of surprisingly great country and Americana music over the last few years. It’s one of the more unusual phenomenon in country and roots, but whether it’s H. Self, First Aid Kit, or the Country Side of Harmonica Sam, these are artists that at times are outright showing up their American counterparts with the quality of their output.

Norway’s Dag Erik Oksvold is as good of an example of this phenomenon as any. In fact, he might be the best example yet, and specifically when it comes to classic-sounding country with an extra emphasis on heartfelt, soulful lyricism. Looking like a cowboy, and sounding like Vince Gill, Oksvold turns in ten peculiarly excellent stabs at actuating American country music that you would swear came from someone from southern Mississippi instead of Oslo.

A property manager by day and a working musician by night, Dag Erik Oksvold started playing the drums at the age of six, and eventually moved from his hometown of Forsen to Oslo to become a freelance player. It was in this capacity that Oksvold met mid 90’s country star Bryan White who introduced him to country music. When Dag was exposed to the greatness of Buck Owens, it was all over. He had found his calling.

You can’t emphasize enough just how well-executed the ten songs of Back Then are. Even most of the American albums that yearn to achieve this level of country music quality fall short. The fiddle, the steel guitar, the phrasings and style, it’s all ridiculously flawless, and captures the essence of 60’s and 70’s Countrypolitan greatness with just the right dash of modern sensibility to keep it fresh feeling.

But most importantly, it’s Dag Erik Oksvold’s voice that really draws you in, and sells you on this music. He doesn’t try to fake an accent, but there’s no strangeness or latency in his delivery either. He sounds like he was born to sing classic country music. It sounds like it would be a sin for him to be doing anything else.

There is a little bit that gets lost in some of the lyrical translation. When you’re dealing with English as a second language, sometimes the colloquialisms and tenses don’t line up perfectly. But hey, when the results are this great, you’re willing to extend a little latitude. The emotion behind each song comes through clearly. Even if Oksvold sang in his native tongue, you would still feel it deeply.

Many assert that country music should have no borders. You hear an artist like Dag Erik Oksvold, and you most certainly agree, at least when it comes to country of origin. As long as someone has the love of true country music in their heart, and the gift to express it to the world like Oksvold, there should be no boundaries placed on their audience; they should be shepherded to the front of the line in favor of those who don’t.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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