The Country Side of Harmonica Sam’s “Broken Bottle, Broken Heart”
There are a few ways you can attempt to achieve country music perfection. With The Country Side of Harmonica Sam, it is to so expertly recreate the classic era of country music when artists like Lefty Frizzell and Webb Pierce were topping the charts, the results are downright jaw dropping. We’re not talking about close approximations. We’re not talking about being influenced by a certain time period. We’re talking about every single element of the presentation—from the words, to the music, to the singing style and the way the snare drum sounds and the exact notes played by the steel guitar, even the recording technique being so painstakingly aligned with classic country modes, there is lossless quality between what you’ll hear here, and a piece of country music cut in the 1950’s.
The effort, the expertise, the insistence to the point of obsession that such an undertaking requires is a marvel all to itself, even before any enjoyment the music affords, which is ample. And to make it even more astounding, this entire enterprise is accomplished by a band that’s based some 4,500 miles from Nashville. That’s right, the outfit that most deftly recreates the sound of the Golden Era of country music in the modern moment is from the Scandinavian enclave of Sweden of all places, and has now pulled off this feat for their third record in a row.
Welcome into your country music-loving hearts The Country Side of Harmonica Sam ladies and gentlemen. That chill of of nostalgia and warmth you feel when you hear an old classic country tune billowing out of a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox envelops every note of this band and their new album Broken Bottle, Broken Heart. You’ll be berating Mr. Google for telling you this band and their music aren’t some 70-years-old, but it’s not a hiccup in the algorithm, it’s the old souls of this quintuple taking you back to a time some believe was the greatest era in country, and bringing it back to life once again.
And despite the name, you won’t hear a lick of harmonica here. Harmonica Sam actually started as a blues player back in the 90’s. In 2009 he met steel guitar player Peter Andersson who adds the eerily accurate tones and style that makes the project as true to the era it wants to evoke as possible, and next thing you know, Harmonica Sam was giving into his country side. Along with lead guitarist Johan Bandling Melin, Ulrik Jansson who has that tic-tac bass style down pat, and drummer Patrik Malmros, listening to this outfit is like stepping into a time portal.
Okay that’s all fine and dandy, but this version of country music cosplay would not be nearly as cool if the music itself didn’t hold up. The Country Side of Harmonica Sam is not a cover band. Original songs penned by Dan Englund, Tobias Einstead, and one of the best guys to give you Hank Williams chills around in Jake Penrod make Broken Bottle, Broken Heart full of fresh takes, while still remaining in period. Their songs aren’t full of fuddy duddy references to anachronisms like milk men and rotary telephones, though they do make use on much for the 50’s language found in classic country. Yet the sentiments of heartbreak and loneliness are timeless and universal. Whether it was 1954 or now in 2019, people still turn to country music when they want to hear hard luck stories to commiserate with.
Yes, it’s fair when comparing The Country Side of Harmonica Sam to more contemporary country bands to deduce that ultimately their doing a shtick, and this music does lack a dimension of originality compared to the artists out there trying to make a unique sound in the country realm as opposed to so strictly adhering to a previous era. It’s also not like there aren’t dozens of other bands and artists out there dressing in vintage duds and delving into this same discipline. But it’s the deadly accuracy Country Side of Harmonica Sam brings to this endeavor that really distances them from the other neotraditional outfits and makes them original in their own right.
For The Country Side of Harmonica Sam, this isn’t just about taking you back in time. This is about making country music the way it’s supposed to be, the way it originally was when electric instruments first came about, and the way it still should be made, with reverence for the roots and history of the music, and a passion for telling stories that will always be relevant to wounded hearts.
1 3/4 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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December 10, 2019 @ 9:42 am
These guys kick ass. Ordering now to add to their other two records already in my collection
December 10, 2019 @ 9:47 am
Yeah preform old country in it an entertaining way that keeps you engaged. They remind me of listening to Buck Owens.
December 10, 2019 @ 10:08 am
”……that’s all fine and dandy, but this version of country music cosplay would not be nearly as cool if the music itself didn’t hold up. ”
and you nailed it with that statement , trigger . THIS HOLD UPS BIGTIME.
….great players who are scarily tuned into the vibe and the elements required to make this fly ….this stuff is seamlessly stiched together and illustrates not only a lovet for the songs but for the SOUNDS and traditions of the music . From the writing to the performances to the rhythms and arrangements this stuff screams conviction and passion by this superb group . After a song or two I’m not thinking ‘camp’ or schtick whatsoever . I’m invested in the reverence , the soul and the honesty oozing from every track .
Its simply beautiful …….and man ….does it sound FRESH in these cookie cutter ‘country’ music times. It doesn’t try to be anything but respectful and on that count it delivers non-stop . what an absolute joy to hear this music performed and recorded with such care and love .
December 10, 2019 @ 10:14 am
I continue to sing the praises of these guys. I’ve watched them live numerous times and found them to be pretty great. They hold a crowds attention and make mighty good Honky-Tonk sounds unlike anything you have seen. Peter the steel guy is good as advertised. They are tight as a band.
Yes, I know that some find it too retro, but for those of us who never got to see Wynn Stewart or Buck or Webb, this replicates that experience pretty well.
December 10, 2019 @ 11:00 am
They still have real recording studios over there. We should outsource all of our music over there. Well, not all of it. We still have people qualified to make EDM here…
For the reason that I won’t buy software shit onto plastic, this will be the first vinyl I’ve purchased in a looonnggg time. Can’t wait to hear it.
December 10, 2019 @ 11:19 am
I love it…i buy it…i can’t wait to listen to the album.
When i’m done with Broken Bottle, Broken Heart i will listen to A Drink After Midnight (2017) & Open Letter To The Blues (2015).
December 10, 2019 @ 12:01 pm
I can dig it. It’s miles beyond whatever that hipster on Jack Stripes label or that Italian hipster ever put out. ‘I Drink Because I Care’ that’s a new one I can’t wait to try it out and see how it goes over .
December 10, 2019 @ 12:02 pm
Also I believe you mean Webb Pierce.
December 10, 2019 @ 3:44 pm
Nice. Good work Trigger . Nail on the head this stuff holds up
December 10, 2019 @ 4:16 pm
Holy cow. Sweden FTW!
Is it possible that these guys are getting better? Their first two albums were awesome, and this may be the best yet. Reminds me of all the classic HOFers already mentioned here, and I’d Faron Young to that list as well.
Won’t get enough time to figure out if this should be an AOTY candidate, but it’s definitely an essential album for 2019. You know that after, what, 3 seconds?
December 10, 2019 @ 7:27 pm
I picked up A Drink After Midnight and really dug it. But thanks for making me take note that they don’t write their own songs. I just kind of assumed they did, other than covers, of course.
I went back and looked at the credits for their last album, and it looks like they only wrote like one song…
That definitely drops them down a notch in my book. I will still check this out on Spotify, but it isn’t an instant buy from me anymore.
December 11, 2019 @ 12:54 am
”That definitely drops them down a notch in my book. I will still check this out on Spotify, but it isn’t an instant buy from me anymore.”
I’m curious as to why . the shit on mainstream in the u.s. is to a large extent written or co-written by the artists . arguably the best and most iconic country songs in the last 3o years were outside writes . I’m far more interested in a great song than whether or not the ‘artist’ wrote it and these guys have some great COUNTRY songs .
most mainstream artists in these times would do well to look at more outside writes .
December 11, 2019 @ 6:07 am
Yeah, I realize I’m often in the minority here on this topic. And it’s hard for me to explain. It just turns me off when artists don’t write their own songs. To me, singing songs someone else wrote and singing a true cover of a previously released song are the same thing. If an artist has a 10 song album and there are 2 of these “covers”, I’m cool. But they should be writing almost all of their songs. Otherwise, they are just cover bands/singers who you can see in any Nashville or local bar. Their new songs are just covers of songs that aren’t popular (yet).
December 11, 2019 @ 2:16 pm
Hank Williams didn’t write at least two of the songs he’s famous for: Lovesick Blues and Lost Highway… but he’s famous for his interpretations of them.
George Strait didn’t write any of famous songs.
Ya either like it or ya don’t.
December 11, 2019 @ 5:02 pm
I won’t give my opinions on George. I would probably be banned from this site. Lol. I’m sure you could guess.
Mike and the Moonpies are my favorite band on Earth right now. I love Tyler Childers. In my opinion, it isn’t fair to compare artists who don’t write their own songs to the incredible ones that do. And knowledge that an artist doesn’t write their own stuff hurts my ability to enjoy their music as much as I otherwise would have.
And as someone who was a late comer to country, I can tell you this is absolutely one of the reasons country is less widely respected than, say, classic rock. So it matters to some folks, for sure.
And I’m not saying anyone is crazy for not caring about such things. I get it.
December 11, 2019 @ 9:03 pm
This is a very interesting issue. I assume that it something to do with believability for you? In other words, it seems more authentic and real to you when an artist sings words and plays music he or she wrote? If that’s where you’re coming from, I get it, and agree that in some instances, it can feel like a 360-degree package when you hear an artist do his or her own song.
At the same time, for me, the connection of one generation to the next is an integral part of country music and part of what I love. There is a cultural and even familial element to country music that isn’t present in the same way with rock music. When McKay & Leigh sing “New Cut Road” (as they do on their terrific, just-released album), they’re partly singing to Guy Clark, the revered singer-songwriter who wrote it, and they’re certainly thanking and honoring him. In turn, it makes me think about where I was when I first heard Guy Clark’s songs and the friends who I shared it with, etc. When any of a million artists covers “Jambalaya,” they’re singing alongside Hank, Sr., and we all hear his interpretation while we’re hearing the new one. And when an artist remakes a song written by Harlan Howard (a songwriter who, to my knowledge, never performed), s/he’s affirmatively embracing Nashville and the people and songs that make it up. Vincent Neil Emerson has a great song called “Willie’s Wall” on his amazing 2019 album because you sort of can’t write a country song or make a country album without at least having Willie somewhere in your head and heart. The artists and songwriters and fans are all connected, and all connected over the years.
So yeah, it’s different when an artist sings his or her own song vs. when they’re singing someone else’s song, but I think people who think less of country music for that reason are missing out on what makes country music more than just notes and words. I’m not saying you think less of country music for this reason, and I respect your preference for people performing their own music. Maybe I’m saying that in country music, there is a different, broader definition of what an artist’s “own” music is. Ernest Tubb’s music is Loretta Lynn’s music is Tyler Chiller’s music, etc.
Take a look at this video of Faron Young and Willie talking about “Hello Walls,” a song about a very lonely man. Willie wrote it but Faron, one of the funniest, most talented, and loneliest men in country music, had a hit with it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBN9uk1N2oA They obviously love each other and they’re surrounded by other members of their extended “family.”
I don’t mean to be preachy, and sorry if this comes across that way. I just think you raised a really interesting issue and it’s giving me a chance to respond. This year has filled me up with some of the most beautiful, brilliant music I’ve ever heard, and it’s music that got me through a very hard year, so this has all been on my mind for a while. You just opened the faucet!
Something Always Told Me They Were Reading Tommy Wrong
December 12, 2019 @ 3:58 am
I totally agree. I just can’t listen to the Berlin Philharmonic when they do Beethoven’s ninth, because I know the lazy sods didn’t write it.
The most important thing to me about any music, beyond any thoughts of authenticity or song-writing talent, is the noise it makes. Other considerations make up 10-15% of my appraisal at most. Learning that the singer actually wrote that song of theirs that I love so much makes me like them more, but if I find out they didn’t write it, it doesn’t make me like them less.
December 11, 2019 @ 9:24 am
I am really looking forward to this album. It’s pure honky tonk country music, the type I like.
December 15, 2019 @ 7:07 pm
God dang it, I love this band! All three of their albums have been on repeat all week
December 27, 2019 @ 6:35 am
Good stuff as always from these guys.
Sad that I couldn’t see them at Duke’s last month.
January 10, 2020 @ 10:24 am
These guys are great. This is COUNTRY Music. I think someone should get these guys down to Texas, they would be great in a Texas dance hall.
April 20, 2020 @ 3:41 pm
First time I’ve heard these guys i almost couldn’t believe how great they sounded: absolutely stunning,,,if you like true country music can’t miss their albums.
Greetings from Italy. Keep steelin’!