Wood & Wire: Sublime Bluegrass

wood & wire album cover

I have been waiting over a year to write this review. Last March, I wrote about being quite impressed with Wood & Wire after seeing them perform at the Cactus Cafe. Around that time, they were working towards an LP, but it just kept getting pushed further and further back (as happens frequently). I would be annoyed that I didn’t get to hear more of their music sooner, but now that the record is in my hands, I am nothing but grateful. Wood & Wire’s self-titled debut album was released in February of this year, and is a nearly flawless bluegrass record.

The album’s centerpiece and standout track is “Bet the World,” which originally saw release as a demo in December 2011. It’s a mid-tempo track in which singer/guitarist Tony Kamel professes the depth of his love for the woman that has caught his eye. It’s got a great chorus with pure harmonies, and the kind of winning charm in its lyrics that can help it appeal to bluegrass newcomers and purists alike. Definitely check this one out.

Wood & Wire - 'Bet the World

Surrounding “Bet the World” are 13 other songs that demonstrate a mastery of bluegrass style and technique. “Setting the World on Fire,” for example, starts off as a straight country song – it wouldn’t be surprising to hear on a Randy Travis record, perhaps – until about 40 seconds in when they flip the bluegrass switch (mostly thanks to a walking bass and running banjo) and they never look back. Lead track, “Mexico,” hits the ground with a tempo appropriate for a song about a fugitive, and the harmony on “I did ten long years / And I ain’t goin’ back there again” is damn perfect. They pick up the pace even more for the album’s almost-closer, “Rollin’ in the Washingtons,” sung in a traditional bluegrass harmony from start to finish. Instrumental “Nothin’ Wrong” allows the listener to just sit back and admire the talent and dexterity Wood & Wire bring to their playing – as soloists and as a cohesive group.

The one track I inevitably skip over is “Nowhere & Gone,” a ballad about loneliness. I’m much more inclined toward the rollicking numbers than the slow ones, and this is about as slow as it gets (author’s note: Ironically, I woke up with this song in my head this morning). It’s not bad, but just lacks the energy of a song like “Rambler’s Blues,” which immediately follows it. “Rambler’s Blues” paints the picture of an emotionally distant journeyman in the midst of an existential crisis, with some of the finest pickin’ you could imagine supporting it.

I could go on and on about the rest of the great tracks I haven’t mentioned here (like “Wild Wandering Road” that rocks, but sounds a bit too much like contemporary jam bluegrass for me; or the even-tempered “Overblown” that sounds like a song that was written hundreds of years ago and has stood the test of time). But all I can say is that if you are even a moderate fan of bluegrass, you just need to get this record and experience it for your own. Download it on iTunes and catch them live next at Stubb’s Indoors on May 17th.

– Carter Delloro