The Wilders,
Throw Down
(Rural Grit, 2006)

As a general rule, the Kansas City-based Wilders are exhilarating on stage, less so on disc. This time around, however, they had the good sense to engage the production services of the well-regarded old-time musician Dirk Powell, who lets breathe free a band that deliriously fuses mountain fiddle tunes, honkytonk laments and traditional bluegrass. The Wilders sound like a lot of artists but no one artist in particular. Well, maybe Hank Williams in a modestly updated iteration.

Led by guitarist and singer Ike Skelton and grounded in Betse Ellis's rich, warm fiddling, the Wilders capture an acoustic-country sound that has little -- well, nothing -- to do with "acoustic country" as the phrase is used these days, usually shorthand for unamplified country-pop, a sound toward which a whole strain of modern bluegrass hurtles to the displeasure of those of us who prefer, as the Wilders' label so nicely puts it, "rural grit." The approach the band takes finds its home inside a time tunnel where it is always somewhere between 1925 and 1950, Skillet Lickers on one side and Drifting Cowboys on the other. If that sounds like a place you'd like to be, the Wilders have an open door for you.

The material consists of a well-picked (in both senses) assortment of fiddle tunes and hard-core country songs, both traditional and might-as-well-be traditional originals by band members Skelton, Phil Wade and Nate Gawron. The former include a couple of Hank Williams tunes ("Won't You Sometimes Think of Me?" and "The Blues Come Around") and the Ernest Tubb evergreen "Drivin' Nails in My Coffin." Unless you're something of a country-music historian, though, the songs are well-nigh indistinguishable, flowing organically into one another. The Wilders are a fairly young bunch, but you'd swear that they'd been at this since 1950 at least.

by Jerome Clark
3 June 2006