This week I’ve been thinking about Christmas a surprising amount, considering the time of year. It may be precisely the time of year – and the oppressive heat that goes along with it – that has me yearning for the yuletide, but that doesn’t make it any less of a coincidence that I noticed this post at Austin Town Hall introducing “Home for the Holidays” by Wheeler Brothers. It’s a massive song that uses those darkest of winter days to suggest redemption for a fugitive – the title delivered in a desperate yowl that conveys all sorts of emotions. The chorus manages to rock out in a triple meter (I could be wrong, but that usually seems reserved in rock for ballads – like the verses), and the arrangement is full and interesting (sweet guitar double stops, backing horns, etc.). It was more than enough to pique my interest for the full album.
Portraits, which came out in June, is an album that I really love – even though “Holidays” is the most straightforward rockin’est song on there. A lot of the rest of the album mixes in more of their country roots, with banjos and slide guitars alongside distorted guitars. Longtime readers of this site know that I have an affinity for alt-country-type music, and Wheeler Brothers definitely qualify. As with Deadman, these guys wouldn’t be out of place on the Railroad Revival tour. Their songs are fantastic: “Mississippi” rocks harder than any song with a glockenspiel should, while “Portraits” is a gorgeous ballad that never plods and even moves smoothly into unexpected territory.
The back half of the album starts to drag a bit for me, though “Focus” is another strong mellow song and “Just Another City” has started to grow on me after three or four spins (boy, that’s an antiquated term now, huh?). Even in the songs that don’t do it for me, Wheeler Brothers still bring energy and interesting melodies to their compositions. I highly recommend picking up Portraits here or at iTunes or Amazon. And look for them to play in Austin again after they return from their East Coast tour in a couple of weeks. If you happen to be reading this in Charlottesville, Virginia, you can see them on Sunday at Mono Loco, or New Yorkers can see them tonight at The Living Room.