Wood & Wire,
Wood & Wire
(independent, 2013)

"Debut" doesn't have to mean "amateur." Enter as Exhibit A this inaugural self-titled album by the bluegrass band Wood & Wire, straight out of Austin. These guys may have been performing together for only a short while, but they are veteran musicians who know their craft, their style and their audience. And they show us what they can do on this marvelous 14-cut CD.

Wood & Wire is Tony Kamel (guitar, vocals), Matt Slusher (mandolin, vocals), Trevor Smith (banjo) and Dom Fisher (bass, vocals). On a handful of songs, Brittany Haas's fiddle playing is added as frosting on the musical cake. There are no covers here; these are all original, brand-new songs, well mixed in production, that somehow seem as though they've been around for years. It doesn't take more than two pass-throughs for you to remember the choruses and to sing along with the group. Each tune is as musically democratic as it can get, too. The banjo, guitar and mandolin harmonies either weave in and out of each other, or they wait and take their turns. And the three-voice vocals blend well. What a fun album to listen to!

"Mexico" is an upbeat jam with a Smokey & the Bandit kind of kick. "The law's comin' after me / But I won't go, I won't go." Makes you want to drive like Burt Reynolds in a fast black Pontiac Firebird. "Brand New Day" marks a more measured pace and offers one of the more introspective set of lyrics. I can relate to "Nowhere & Gone," which sounds like something Mississippi Delta boy Steve Azar might pen. Anyone who's ridden across the country knows the feeling of suddenly finding herself "somewhere between Nowhere and Gone."

My favorite song is "Rambler's Blues," both in terms of music and words. It's an example of quintessential bluegrass, to my mind. It's toe-tappin' and has both banjo and mandolin picking standouts. And the chorus asks the age-old question: "Was I meant to walk that straight and narrow road / Or was I meant to run through life alone?" Alas, we're left to decipher that answer for ourselves.

The pace slows down a bit with "Setting the World on Fire." Think of a tale along the lines of Marshall Tucker's classic, "Can't You See." The lead singer has to decide what to do with himself, now that the girl has gone. "Nothin' Wrong" is a banjo instrumental at its core, written by Trevor Smith. Each musician takes his turn, though. Make sure you have your low-end channel cranked to get the best of Fisher's stand-up bass on this one.

"Overblown" describes a cold and snowy storm that's come down from the "Rocky Mountain High." It reminds me of some of the cuts on Dan Fogelberg's High Country Snows album from 1985. Listen for the nice a cappella half-chorus toward the end.

"The Positive" is not as memorable as the other selections. But, again, be sure to turn up the bass. "Bet the World" is another feisty one, featuring banjo and fiddle. "Coal Mining One" is a slow song that harkens to Muhlenberg County, a familiar topic and place in the folk/country/bluegrass arena. "Fool Out of Me" may have been recorded away from the studio. It's good, but it's got rec-hall-like acoustics. "Wandering Wild Road" is a tumbling tune featuring banjo and mandolin.

Some on-disc chatter primes you for a running start at "Rollin' in the Washingtons," the last credited cut. For some odd reason, it makes me think of a sped-up version of "Cecelia" by Simon & Garfunkel. It shows off great guitar and mandolin picking. Keep the disc spinning, and you'll hear an extra instrumental outtake that sounds like an on-site rehearsal for "Overblown." Then the musicians fade away with the sound.

I will be keeping this CD in my car. It provides the perfect music for long-distance drives, which I happen to take a lot. North, south, east, west -- it won't matter where I'm going. And if I'm alone, no one will care if I sing along with these guys at the top of my lungs.

The banjo, the guitar, the mandolin, the stand-up bass. Each is created by a special combination of wood and wire that results in the production of a unique sound when struck. The band Wood & Wire is unique, too. Its aim in 2013 is to break out of local markets and go national. Something tells me that goal is within reach.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Corinne H. Smith

13 April 2013

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