Nordic musicians are some of the best Americana musicians around. Witness from 2019 alone the top-notch releases by Swede Daniel Norgren, Norwegian Jens Carelius, and Finn H.C. Slim. One has to wonder whether the ghastly mid-90s Eurovision hit of the old American song “Cotton-Eyed Joe” had anything to do with it. Because now comes Swedish gothic garage blues singer and guitarist Bror Gunnar Jansson, making a deeper and darker version of that song and fully admitting that the old Rednex version of it influenced him.
I’m not sure when Rednex’ Eurodance version of the song came to America, but it’s pretty ubiquitous in certain settings now, including minor league baseball parks. It’s too bad that version is most people’s idea of what the song is like. I wrote about it way back in 2001, and I encourage you to take a look at my old review, which I’ve updated a bit – including a link to an excellent podcast with the history of the song and Rednex’ version and their career.
Bror Gunnar Jansson comes from a long line of Swedish jazz musicians – his father Kjel played bass with the lies of Chet Baker and Dexter Gordon. Born in 1986, he grew up with that Rednex version of “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and as an adult he encountered a version by American Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. He started thinking about doing his own version and his research led him to the fact that it stems from a song sung by enslaved African Americans in the 1800s. (A lot of this info comes from an interview Jansson did with American Songwriter magazine, which debuted the video – you can read it here.)
Jansson’s solo release They Found My Body In A Bag came out in 2019, and I aim to check it out as soon as I can. If it’s anything like this stunning take on “Cotton-Eyed Joe” I’m sure I’ll love it. It and many of his other releases are available on Spotify and probably other platforms.
In the meantime, join me in binge-watching of this video. Mesmerizing but uncluttered, and how about that beautiful resonator guitar he’s playing?!
(Playground Music, 2020)