Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Artist profile: Lucky Lips (Norway)

When I heard that one of the acts in Norway's Melodi Grand Prix, the country's selection for the Eurovision Song Contest, would be a bluegrass act, I had to check them out.

Lucky Lips describe themselves as "a rootsy acoustic band, consisting of four guys and a songbird". They play roots and Americana inspired music, in what Norwegian broadcaster NRK calls "the borderlands between country, bluegrass and pop".

Lucky Lips

Their most recent album, Mountain Dust, published in 2012, certainly strays closer to the bluegrass and country end of that sphere than the pop, their music full of tight harmonies with banjo and mandolin featuring heavily in the arrangements. Those who don't speak Norwegian will be happy to learn that they sing almost exclusively in English, thankfully with barely the trace of an accent - indeed, Dagbladet describes lead singer Malin Pettersen as "realising she was born in the wrong place", and she announces as such in the title track from the album:
Oh, how I wish I was a mountain girl (...)
But I guess I was born where my soul belongs
Not high up in the mountains
But I'll sing those mountain songs.
Pettersen is the main songwriter of the band, having written nine of the album's thirteen tracks. She certainly shows a keen understanding of the bluegrass genre, with a surprising lyrical finesse that fits right into the scene and belies her background - she first came to fame finishing 9th on the third season of Norwegian Idol.

In 2011, the band had the honour of being presented with the prestigious #1 European Bluegrass Band 2011 Award at the European World of Bluegrass Festival (EWOB) in the Netherlands, the first time a Norwegian act has received the award. In February they will play two dates in Oslo as part of the by:Larm festival, followed by two further dates at the end of March in Austin, Texas.

If you have Spotify you can listen to their album Mountain Dust below (check out in particular 'A Man Like You', 'Daddys Lament' and the title track), or you can see some of their performances on their Youtube channel. Their MGP song, 'Sweet and Heavy', is also on Spotify.

Official website

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Artist profile: Hanne Sørvaag (Norway)

If you liked the direction Jewel’s been taking with her recent country releases, but wished they were just a bit, you know, better, then Norwegian singer Hanne Sørvaag’s new album might be just the thing for you.

Sørvaag has been active on the Norwegian music scene for a number of years, but has only recently started to move into country music. She’s also a successful songwriter; her most familiar song to many Americans will probably be ‘My Destiny’, which was butchered by Katherine McPhee in the final of American Idol in 2006.

In 2011 she took part in Norway’s Melodi Grand Prix, reaching the final with ’You’re Like a Melody’, which at the time I described as the kind of song that would fit right in on contemporary country radio. The year before she wrote the competition winner, ’My Heart Is Yours’, arranged as a big ballad for Didrik Solli-Tangen, but interpreted by Sørvaag herself on her album in a much more intimate form, with tones reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s gentler moments.

Last year, as well as winning Skal vi danse, the Norwegian version of Dancing With the Stars/Strictly Come Dancing, Sørvaag released her fourth album, All Is Forgiven, her first truly country release. Recorded in Nashville in collaboration with several Music City songwriters, and produced by Jørn Dahl, the Norwegian behind Kurt Nilsen’s excellent Rise to the Occasion from 2008, the album has received critical acclaim and climbed to the 14th position on the Norwegian chart.

Among the best songs are ‘I Hope I Dream’, a delicate rumination on what we achieve in life sung in a duet with Tobias Stenkjær, and ‘Something About a Song’, a natural successor to ‘You’re Like a Melody’, which has a beautiful, thoughtful mood conveyed through both the simple arrangement and the honesty in the lyrics – there’s something that everyone will be able to identify with in this song.

The lead single from the album was the pop-country ‘Days That End With Y’, which brightens up a slightly tired lyrical trick with a bright, breezy arrangement and genuinely wistful vocal.

If you have Spotify, you should be able to listen to the full album below: