Album Review of
Bluegrass Headquarters

Written by Joe Ross
October 3, 2019 - 2:22pm EDT
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Since Bill Monroe created bluegrass, the genre has evolved into various shapes and forms around the world. Over forty years ago, a young man in Finland named Jussi Syren built a mandolin and started playing bluegrass. He’s remained dedicated to the traditional sound ever since. Syren once fronted a group called “The Lake Country Boys,” and his current group (“Jussi Syren and the Groundbreakers”) has been thrilling bluegrass aficionados since 1995 with exuberant, hard-driving music. With plenty of heart, soul and emotion, “Bluegrass Headquarters” is their eleventh album and offers eight originals and three covers. Recorded mostly live without overdubs, it achieves a high level of energy reminiscent of bluegrass LPs of yesteryear. Syren added in his resonator guitar on two tracks, and the award-winning Michael Cleveland contributed fiddle tracks on “Bluegrass Headquarters” and the poignant instrumental “Road to Tammelund.” One might miss the fiddle on some other songs, but the group’s short arrangements remain concise and focused in such a way that the band’s vocals, Syren’s mandolin, and Tauri Oksala’s banjo are always front and center while guitarist J.P. Putkonen and bass player Tero Mäenpää provide solid rhythm. Oksala’s “Drop C Ride” demonstrates his masterful technique on the 5-string. The album has several other highlights, and I especially enjoyed “Ode to Bluegrass Mandolin” in which Syren acknowledges a few specific artists (e.g. John Duffey, Alan Bibey) that have influenced him. Claiming bluegrass for their own, the band evocatively sings Syren’s “The Ballad of the White Death,” the story of Finland’s conflict with the Soviets in the Winter War of 1939. I couldn’t understand all of the lyrics on this album, yet I found this band’s bluegrass presentation to be convincing, captivating and very exciting. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)