It’s been said that “Americana” is just “country music that’s actually good.” Without wading into that never-ending argument, I would argue most bands fitting that description would seem underserved by it -- in short, it never tells the full story. Greater Cincinnati’s own Wilder, with the release of their new full-length album Pick Your Poison, seem intent on telling the story completely, and completely on their own terms.
Poison opens with the title track, which wastes no time grabbing your attention with shuffling drums and twangy minor guitar, thoroughly setting the mood for the songs to follow -- it’s got the all the tools to be country, but country ain’t gonna cover it. Kelly Thomas, who has always sounded like a slightly more rock & roll version of Rosanne Cash to me, implores the listener -- and perhaps a past love -- to make his choice, and deal with the consequences.
The next track, “Saving Time,” opens with a disarming and captivating Kevin Hogle drum groove, setting up another dark guitar riff to open the song. Lead vocal duties are handled capably by guitarist Randy Steffen, leading to smooth, easy harmonies with Thomas on the chorus.
“Howl,” the third track on the album, continues the trend with yet another minor guitar riff and solid drum groove, giving the song a dark Southern rock kind of feel. Just when you think the song is over, it fires back with a searing guitar solo over straight-ahead chugging rock & roll, before the music breaks to showcase the band’s clear, earnest vocal harmonies again.
Wilder let up off the gas for the introspective “Reckless Abandon,” an expertly-timed and well-executed ballad. The slower tempo gives every instrument room to shine. Thomas’ voice, though finally showing off her dynamic range, seems hesitant at times to really let go.
The next track, a duet called “Ghost,” keeps the band at a slower tempo. Once again, everyone gets room to breathe, including a few featured bass lines played masterfully by bassist John Schmidt. Track six, “Acts Of God,” shakes things up with a blend of big rock guitar and lilting mandolin, giving the song a “mid-90s alternative rock on the way to the barn party” kind of feel. “Voice Of Reason,” from the first verse’s arpeggiated acoustic guitar to the lead slide guitar, wears the Americana mantel on its sleeve, showing Wilder can cover that base, too. “Satellite” slows things down again for a quiet, acoustic duet. It’s unpolished and rough, and in that way gives a more intimate listening experience.
The album closes with a driving, upbeat country rocker “Thick As Thieves,” a song that would be at home on any of the best “good country” albums and displaying Thomas and Steffen’s clear chemistry.
Pick Your Poison is one of those albums that shows what’s right with music, and the Greater Cincinnati music scene -- it’s fun, dynamic, and memorable. Poison also shows songwriting and musicianship steeped in this history of good ol’ country music, without feeling rehashed or repetitive. Wilder set out to be storytellers; Poison is a story worth listening to.
- Pick Your Poison
- Saving Time
- Reckless Abandon
- Acts Of God
- Voice Of Reason
- Thick As Thieves