First off, let me begin by noting that the Wheeler Brothers probably couldn’t care less what I have to say about them. Their rise over the last couple of years has been astounding. In 2012, they won the Austin Music Award for Best New Band and Best Roots Rock, and in 2013 they finished second behind Gary Clark Jr for Best Overall Artist while again wrapping up the Best Roots Rock category. As I write this, Waterloo Records reports the Wheeler Brothers are the top-selling Texas artist of the moment, thanks to their latest record Gold Boots Glitter. They are surely one of the hottest new bands out of Austin right now (their Facebook likes just climbed north of 10,000), and with summer festival appearances at Lollapalooza and Houston’s Free Press Summer Fest on the horizon, they show no signs of slowing down.
When I reviewed their first record, I heaped a lot of praise on it. The first half of the album, in particular, still stands up really well. It’s got great choruses and good lyrics – “Home For the Holidays” remains a favorite for me. We stuck that album at the end of our Best Austin Albums of 2011 list, because it was really solid but not a standout. Thus, the level of their subsequent success came as a bit of a surprise to me.
Now they have released Gold Boots Glitter – their much-anticipated follow-up – and as you can tell by the title of this post, I am not impressed.
I first heard “Sleep When I’m Dead” on KUTX and enjoyed it. It’s a decent country-rock number that builds itself around one of my least favorite cliches (I rather enjoy sleep), but I was not expecting it to be one of the highlights of the record. Instead, “Sleep” is one of only two songs on this record that I would purposely listen to after I finish this review. The other is the far-and-away best song on the album, “I’ve Been Around.” It’s got a pleasant little Jack Johnson-esque rhythm ukulele part (I’m sure that description has already turned off most of you readers) and is a showcase for the vocal harmonies that the Wheeler Brothers are capable of. It’s the song that most deviates from their formula and it is a refreshing reward after an album’s worth of mediocrity.
Elsewhere the Wheeler Brothers show us nothing special. “Cigarette Smoke” shows a harder, rock side of the group; “Straight and Steady” has some of the weakest backing vocals I’ve heard in a while (“doo doo’l loo”); “You Got a Lot of Love” is a romantic serenade that likely puts the object of the singer’s affection into a deep sleep. When the utterly forgetful “Struggle With It All You Like” goes in one ear and out the other, it’s kind of a relief not to have to think about this record for three and a half minutes.
If you like Gold Boots Glitter, I would recommend picking up a copy of Whitman’s Weekends to see what a rootsy rock band sounds like when they aren’t afraid to have anything resembling an edge. The Wheelers’ “Straight and Steady” and “Under A Bridge,” in particular, both sound a lot like spayed and neutered Whitman singles.
I don’t know what happened to the Wheeler Brothers from the first record. That was a group that had an ear for melodies, cared about a good hook and put itself in new and different sonic situations. The new Wheeler Brothers isn’t bringing anything interesting to the table, and is producing the blandest kind of roots rock we could ask for. If it were any other group I don’t know that I would care this much; since the Wheeler Brothers have met with so much acclaim, though, I’m a bit more angered. And it seems irrefutable to me that the Wheelers Brothers are overrated.
– Carter Delloro