The Swedish duo of John Engelbert and Oskar “Ossi” Bonde deliver a winning spin on American blues and rock with their self-titled debut album. After making a splash in Sweden in 2006, Johnossi gets its American release, and not a moment too soon, as the guitar (Engelbert, also vocals) and drums (Bonde) team draw upon pure Americana to make their sound. Johnossi follows the path set by other guitar & drums pairs like The White Stripes and The Black Keys, all the while adding their own sense of color.
Engelbert manages to use his acoustic guitar for everything from stripped-down, soulful folk to distorted, jangly, heavy garage rock – sometimes shifting in the middle of a song. Johnossi opens with the quiet refrain that starts “The Show Tonight”, before going big, epic, and rockin’. Other tracks that show this mix include the subdued-to-crashing “The Lottery” and the darkly soft, with sparks of harder rock, which is “Press Hold” (probably the best of these types on the record).
But Johnossi score when they go straight-up rock, or flat-out heart. The pushing, rollicking “Execution Song” employs excellent stops and starts, while “From People’s Heart” delivers pressing, undistorted rock ‘n’ roll. The best combinations of blues and rock can be found on the driving blues, with rock attitude, of “Santa Monica Bay”, and the scratchy guitar rock, with blues-y undertones, of “Man Must Dance”. Yet there’s also some soul on show on Johnossi, thanks to haunting tracks like “There’s a Lot Of Things To Do Before You Die” and “Happiness A La Mode”, not to mention the heartfelt finisher “Summerbreeze”, or the country-sad “Family Values”.
Just wrapping up their tour with fellow Swedes the Shout Out Louds and Nico Vega, Engelbert and Bonde look set for big things as Johnossi, with Johnossi. They draw upon America’s tried-and-true guitar legacy, while still giving it their own attitude. And that’s something that’ll play well on any side of the Atlantic.