Album Review – The Wooks – “Flyin’ High”

What the hell is a Wook? A furry bipedal woodland creature? A new version of cryptocurrency? Some sort of weird sexual maneuver involving flatulence? A specialty tool used to remove the hubcaps off of 70’s muscle cars? A knitted head covering employed by the Inuit in Winter? Nope, it’s none of these. We’re not exactly sure what a Wook is, except that when you gather all of The Wooks together, they make a pleasant sound. That’s one of the reasons they’ve been one of the favorite bands of Tyler Childers over the years.

If you love bluegrass music but wish sometimes it came with a little more dirt rubbed in and could leave all the surgical precision behind, if you love a good busking string band but can’t stand all of the “aw shucks” Vaudevillian put-ons that commonly come with a caravan of college graduates with banjos and suspenders, and if you love country music with bluegrass instrumentation—or vice versa—then The Wooks will nestle right into that little crevice in your heart that is just left wanting by some other acoustic outfits.

One of the great things about The Wooks is you could pick them up and drop them smack dab in the middle of a bluegrass festival, or a punk club in Brooklyn, or a honky tonk in Texas, or a hipster bar in Berkeley, and they would immediately become the favorite band of whomever was in earshot, whether those ears are predisposed to liking bluegrass or not.

Trying to capture that raw and wide appeal the band brings to their live shows is how they approached their latest album Flyin’ High, cutting it in live takes over only two days, solos included, so that energy stuck right to the recordings, and comes bounding out of your speakers in ten new original songs and a couple of smart covers.

The original Wook is guitarist CJ Cain from Lexington, Kentucky, and he’s joined in this installment by Nashville-based artists Harry Clark on mandolin, George Guthrie on banjo, and Allen Cooke on Dobro. Once you’re a Wook, you’re a full member of the tribe, and all but Allen Cooke contribute original songs to the album, and sing on it as well.

It’s the combination of top notch bluegrass instrumentation that still has soul to it, and songwriting that is more akin to top notch country or Americana that makes The Wooks so unique. “Tennessee Girl” written by Harry Clark sounds like something Tyler Childers would have cut earlier in his career. “Butler Hayes” by CJ Cain with Eric Cummins and Ray Smith sounds like a bluegrass classic, saying so much, and in such plainspoken language.

Like all great bluegrass, there is a euphoric energy captured in the music of The Wooks. But there is also the pith of great country songs. They also include a sick cover of John Prine’s “Iron Ore Betty,” and the album starts off with a song called “What The Rock Don’t Know” by Arkansas songwriter Willi Carlisle. Also at times in the album, they get just enough cosmic on the tail end of songs to keep it all interesting.

And most important to note about The Wooks is what a brotherhood the group has always enjoyed, no matter who is manning the instruments. It’s that mud bond and chemistry that makes them not just another bluegrass band. You want to adopt these guys, take them in—if you weren’t afraid they would eat all of your food and run you out of toilet paper. After all, we all know that a Wook can’t be tamed.

1 3/4 Wooks Up (8.5/10)

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