Jon-Olov Woxlin (Sweden) - The Great Unknown (album)
My New Years resolution is to review more Nordic album releases, even if I have to keep them relatively brief, so I can hardly ignore a new album which came out on January 1st. Jon-Olov Woxlin is a Swedish songwriter that we have covered previously, notably his 2016 release ‘Act Aloof’, and his new album entitled ‘The Great Unknown’ is the 4th from the Gothenburg based musician.
If sometimes we have difficulty in describing an artist genre, at least that isn’t an issue with Jon-Olov Woxlin, because he writes in very much a traditional style, country folk that focuses on telling stories, and the lovely thing is that whilst many of his characters are probably fictional, I can’t help but google their names, because he really does bring them all to life. Musically though it’s written in such ‘a style’ that I realise that it might not be for everyone, but that’s not entirely the key point anyway, because he clearly wants to focus on the tales of life and death in his world. Well, mainly death actually.
Opening track ‘I’ve Missed A Lot of Fun’ makes that point pretty well, as he bemoans all the Country music stars that have passed away before he had chance to see and appreciate them: ‘my country music heroes get killed off one by one, clearly I was born too late, I missed a lot of fun’. It’s a nice tribute, albeit built up around Woxlin’s favourite character of all, The Grim Reaper.
‘The Fiddler Abraham Hult’ is one of those characters that I found myself researching more, but here it’s Woxlin’s vocals actually that stand out, authentic and always natural sounding – the album was recorded live in a studio in just a day over last summer, and that adds to the power of the songs.
‘Soon to be Expected’ starts off sounding upbeat and positive, before the reality of the message hits home – getting home to find a letter from the government telling you that the world is about to end. But the clever word play means that it’s not quite as dark as it sounds - ‘It’s not about where and how, But when the end will be’.
My favourite story, however, is probably that of ‘Drunken Willie McCain’ (“he was very good with names / making dead men’s tombstones every night and day”), the poor drunk who was framed for murder and the story of his journey to the gallows – ‘he wasn’t a man of luck, whenever there was shooting around, he was the last man to duck’. It’s lovely stuff.
I like the way that ‘Murder of Crows’ is constructed, with fear and anxiety slowly creeping up through the vision of the crows firstly in the distance, then against the window and finally at the end of the bed, but again I’m drawn to his favourite subject in ‘Where I Once Was Born’, which sounds like a quaint song about his family village, but actually traces a mans trip again to the gallows – a resigned fate where I can almost feel the breath of the executioner.
As I suggested previously the very traditional Americana / Country style won’t be for everyone, but I like Jon-Olov Woxlin’s world, and to be featured in one of his songs seems like a badge of honour, even if most of his characters seem to have come to early premature deaths. His message I guess to all of us that we should make the most of everything whilst we still can. I’m hoping that when the current restraints end we won’t need any reminding.
Nordic Music Review 7/10
Incidentally, Jon-Olov (a part time 'fiddler' himself) tells me that Abraham Hult does exist, and my attempts to track him down online failed because his full name is Abraham Hult Alcén, also known as "Hultkläppen" (the bastard of Hult). He even has a Wikipedia page here.