There's a keen bond between Scotland and Americana, and not just at Celtic Connections and Transatlantic Sessions. Here's another instance of a Scottish band playing a lively and idiomatic personal brand of Americana mixing bluegrass, country and folk roots in almost equal measure but with a healthy dash of rebel-punk that spices up their live act and necessarily makes a token appearance on this, their eponymous debut CD.
Wire & Wool hail from Dundee, and their album was recorded in Perth. The sound of this seven-piece lineup majors on good ol' fiddle'n'banjo, with mandolin (Mark Hand) and solid double bass and guitar rhythms (James Hall and Theo Barnard), but note that the fiddle contingent is particularly strong (hey, there's three of 'em - Alex Riach, Hazel Martin and Barry Nisbet!) to surround Jimmy Buchan Wright's banjo, and they've a hefty vocal presence too (a healthy choice of tough female and male lead singers). So the band makes a satisfyingly full noise, and their playing is expert, neat and tight but with just that extra spark of vital rough energy you need to keep it all driving forward and immediate in impact.
The band was only formed a couple of years ago, out of a diverse group of musicians playing sessions in Dundee, yet they've already gained a great reputation across Scotland for their dynamic live act. Virtually all of their material is self-penned, and it pays due respect to the traditions and values they hold dear. Authentic as it comes, it incorporates trusty themes like love and its trials and tribulations, life on the road, the country and its landscape, the desire to have a plain old good time and so on - but the songs feel right, not in the slightest like pastiches. The tracks are sensibly varied in pace, style and mood, and consistent in quality too, from the rip-roaring adrenalin rush of The Other Side, the downhome rough-house folk of What Would Eric Say, the whisky-fuelled Up In Smoke and the southern-funk of Baltimore to the measured lyricism of Bound To Roam and the dustbowl-ballad vibe of Borderland. There are times when you might almost feel you're listening to one of the old stalwart outfits, so close is the players' obvious feel for their music, this resulting in an ideally unified, natural-born approach to their storytelling. Wire & Wool's fiery playing has real character, whatever the tempo (frenetic sparring or relaxed, genial folkiness). The Widower has a memorability in its melody and contour that recalls Dirk Powell's Waterbound, while the instrumental Nifty Fate could've been sourced from the Punch Brothers or Nickel Creek. And even the closing full-on punk-style thrash through Drunken Sailor is eminently repeatable (which is not something I thought I'd ever say about that song!).
Excellent stuff! If the term Scottish Appalachian had been invented, then that's Wire & Wool to a T…
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