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Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association Magazine CD Review July 2015
July 2015 Magazine:
by John Chabot
Sarah Mae and The Birkeland Boys is a Northern Minnesota family band that does NOT do an “anywhere but Minnesota in January tour.” Their debut CD, It’s Time, features an exceptional playlist of mostly original bluegrass, folk and gospel songs plus two cover tunes. It’s full of great numbers like “Derailed” in Libby, Montana (thanks, Amtrak), “Sawmill Man,” a reflective muse by David Norris about a man, his sawmill, and “the little town that grew out from his saw”; “Captain of Industry,” by Mike Birkeland and Bill Isles, is a universal message for dads everywhere; the bluegrass love song “Forever”; “Why Do Good Men Have to Grow Old?”—we’ve all been blessed, I’m sure, to know someone like this; and a bluegrass biker song, “Two Wheels.”
The band features 15-year-old Sarah Mae Birkeland, who plays several instruments,
including the violin and piano, but her favorite is the upright bass. Sarah is an accomplished musician and a master of her instrument and chosen style. She is an inspiration to all ages. At just over five feet, Sarah is dwarfed by her bass, but impresses audiences with her playing skills and adds enthusiastic lead and harmony vocals. Sarah is lead singer on “Sawmill Man” and her own composition “Two Wheels.” She has affectionately named her bass “Al” (I think he rolls on two wheels). Sarah and her bass really get around, providing the foundation for a good jam or a great show. In addition to playing in the family band that bears her name, she also performs with the Bill and Kate Isles Band, Porcupine Creek, Ditch Creek, and The Road Kill Boys.Sixteen-year-old Derek Birkeland plays mandolin and fiddle, sings harmony vocals, and has lead vocals on “Derailed,” “Lead Foot Jessie” and “Two Wheels.” Derek is a talented, well-rounded musician who is quickly building a reputation as a “Junior Jam Master.” If there’s a good jam going on, Derek will probably be there blending in with his strong baritone voice and excellent musicianship. Derek likes the outdoors and earned the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 15. He also is in the process of building his first hand-crafted guitar under the guidance of “Senior Jam Master” Tedd Williams. Derek is a past Minnesota Old-Time Fiddle Contest finalist and, like Sarah, plays in several bands.Fourteen-year-old Adam Birkeland provides subtle resonator guitar licks throughout the song “Lincoln County, USA” and through the rest of the album. The resonator guitar is Adam’s favorite instrument, which is perfect for his high-energy personality. He also picks a little six-string guitar and rolls, three-fingered style, on the banjo. Adam loves playing serious bluegrass with the family band and their friends. He also enjoys the outdoors and is a Boy Scout.Mike Birkeland is the patriarch of the band (and the family), which makes him sound really old, but he’s not saying. Mike writes most of the family’s original music. His songs about faith, hope and family penetrate the soul.

The album features “roots music”— traditional bluegrass numbers and songs steeped in scripture with stories about the woes of life. Lloyd LaPlant, musician and maker of handcrafted instruments, says, “They knocked it out of the park. It really sounds great. I like every song.”

The making of this album called on a treasure trove of talent with songwriters David Norris (“Sawmill Man”), Tim Byrnes (“On The Fence”), and Bill Isles, who co-wrote with Mike the tunes “Forever” and “Captain of Industry.” I can’t mention Bill Isles without mentioning his wonderful song “Hobos in The Roundhouse.” I had the pleasure of hearing Monroe Crossing cover the song at a concert in Little Falls, Minnesota on May 29. They did “Hobos in The Roundhouse” after telling a great story about Bill Isles’ grandfather. Sounds like Bill is just as great a guy as his granddad, and the Birkeland family gives a special thanks to him: “Bill Isles made this album project work from start to finish. Words can’t express our appreciation. And also, a big thank you to Kate Isles for her encouragement.” Isles co-produced and engineered the recording of It’s Time at his Little Daylight Studio near Carlton, Minnesota. The CD also features several musicians from Duluth, including Isles, Byrnes, Ken Gerard and Tedd Williams.

Last but not least, we all know that behind every great family is a great woman—Wendy Birkeland, mom and best all-round groupie.

It’s Time is an uplifting album and the product of many talented people. The songs are about God, family and friends.

Bluegrass Unlimited May 2015 (New Release Review):
SARAH MAE & THE BIRKELAND BOYS—IT’S TIME—No Label, SMB115. Sarah Mae Birkeland heads up this family band from Minnesota, which includes brothers Derek and Adam and dad Mike. Sarah plays bass, Derek plays mandolin and fiddle, Adam plays resonator guitar, and Mike plays guitar. Mike wrote or co-wrote all songs on this project with the exception of David Norris’ “Sawmill Man.” Also joining the family on this project are Tedd Williams (banjo), Bill Isles (vocals), Tim Byrnes (vocals ), and Ken Gerard (banjo). There is a nice selection of tunes, most sung by Mike with harmonies from the rest of the family. Songs include “Derailed,” “Forever,” “It’s Time,” “Brothers In His Eyes,” the humorous “Leadfoot Jessie,” and the poignant “Why Do Good Men Have To Grow Old?” The project is nicely arranged from this young family band. (Mike Birkeland, 5793 Ratika Rd., Duluth, MN 55810,

One Clarification to the above: 10 of the 12 songs are originals. Our friend, Tim Byrnes, wrote track 11 titled: “On the Fence.”  Tim also played his “pixie lute” on the track.
Still — It’s our first review.  We’ll take it!

Bluegrass Unlimited Review_May 2015

Lakes Festival






Sarah Mae & the Birkeland Boys on Bluegrass Saturday Morning PlaylistMike and Derek Birkeland Music Workshops

We've gone digital. Find us on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify ... and any/all digital media!

We’ve gone digital. Find us on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify … and any/all digital media!









Proctor Journal_Jan. 2015

Thanks, Paul!

Thanks, Paul!