For fans of Portland’s country supergroup Denver, Birger Olsen is known as the one with that voice. His vocal singularity has an undeniable power. His strikingly low delivery is leisurely yet precise, while his straightforward lyrics hold a subtle humor often laced in sweet sentiments, not unlike Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett and John Prine.
Over a century ago, Olsen’s maternal relatives settled in the arid-yet-vibrant eastern Oregon land between the Wallowa Mountains and the Snake River. Growing up on Bainbridge Island, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle, visits to this wide open country fascinated him. It was the calm of the land, its shrinking towns and humble people that inspired much of the songwriting on his debut album The Lights Just Buzz.
Produced by Dolorean’s Ben Nugent, The Lights Just Buzz captures a rich stillness, away from the chaos of contemporary times, where only the necessities exist. As expected, Olsen’s vocals are featured heavily, but the album’s steady force is the warm tone and easy pace of his guitar. His bluesy Ry Cooder-inspired style weaves its way through layers of velvety organs, soulful trumpets and lonesome harmonica.
While a few of the album’s tracks have enough whiskey-soaked swagger to stir up the fine layer of dust on the grange hall dance floor, it’s the introspective numbers that lend this record its biggest sense of home. These are jukebox worthy ballads that celebrate the way that just the right amount of quiet and loneliness can bring people together — even if just for another Rainier.
“The Lights Just Buzz” will be available June 17th on LP (45rpm), digital download and streaming from Mama Bird Recording Co.