Whatever chemistry this quasi supergroup has concocted, whatever contraband or rare earth/conflict minerals might be necessary for the recipe, someone should bottle it up for human consumption, use it to lace the drinks of the poseurs making popular music these days, aerosolize it and fumigate the offices on Music Row, and inject it straight into the veins of all new applicants who want to become performers to help save American music. Because it’s the real shit.
Not even a name change can knock what these dudes have going for them off its axis. Initially known as Hill Country, their first self-titled record from 2020 had us all singing their praises for the laid back country rock bluegrass-infused sound they discovered which was so easy to warm to. Their second eponymous release (strange but true) is a bit more expansive and adventurous, but still includes all those good vibes, quality songs, and killer harmonies that made Hill Country, and now The Wilder Blue, your new favorite band.
Comprised of solo artist and songwriter Zane Williams, songwriter and performer Paul Eason, drummer Lyndon Hughes, multi-instrumentalist Andy Rogers, and bassist Sean Rodriguez, The Wilder Blue is one of the most balanced, forward-thinking, and collaborative projects you will ever hear in country and roots music. With each member bringing veteran experience and no ego or agenda to the project, it allows each contributor to maximize their strengths, and press them into duty for a collective effort.
Their sound reminds you of the best of The Eagles and Alabama, figuring out how to borrow just enough from timeless sounds and melodies to be immediately appealing, while putting enough of their own spin on each song to be original and fresh. On this album, the instrumentation is brought forward even another notch. Some of the guitar solos and banjo rolls will blow your mind on this one, and are featured even more prominently via a few expanded compositions. You wouldn’t want to characterize The Wilder Blue a jam band or anything, but they near that level of immersion and imagination in a number of moments on this album.
Similarly, they lean even heavier into the multi-layer harmonies that bolstered their first record, at times committing dedicated stanzas in songs solely to harmonious runs, almost hot-dogging to show how effortless their voices meld together in savvy arrangements. The Wilder Blue features an elevated level of musicianship compared to what you’re used to from a Texas country band, while remaining not just accessible to all audiences, but incredibly infectious.
What is this album about? A host of things, really. It’s a little country nostalgia here and there, an interesting ghost story in the form of “Shadows and Moonlight,” an inspirational track sung by Paul Eason called “Build Your Wings,” (Zane Williams sings most of the lead parts, while everyone harmonizes). But this isn’t really a thematic album. It’s less about getting you thinking, and more about getting you in the right mood. It’s also one hell of a road trip selection.
Even with all the deserved praise for The Wilder Blue sound, listening to songs like “Picket Fences” and “Birds Of Youth”—as witty and favorable enough as they may be—it makes you wonder if the band can be a little pedestrian at times in regards to lyricism. That’s when you get to the eleventh track on the album called “The Kingsnake and the Rattler.” This is some serious, Townes Van Zant-level poetry shit going down from Zane Williams, and it adds the exact amount of songwriting weight that this album needed to find its balance. Pair that with the final song “Ghost Of Lincoln,” and the album might conclude with its two strongest tracks.
The assertive bass line of “Feelin’ The Miles” may be a little too progressive for some country audience members, and may remind you of something you might hear on an 80’s Miami Vice soundtrack. The Wilder Blue does enlarge their sonic boundaries on this record. But as Zane sings in the expanded, 6-minute song “The Ol’ Guitar Picker,” “There’s only one rule in music. If it sounds good then it is.”
That’s the maxim that guided The Wilder Blue into a sound nobody knew they were missing, but that now feels immediate and necessary. And it’s that beautiful chemistry they find the perfect recipe for once again on their second record.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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