After a long journey, Wonky Tonk & the High Life will be releasing Lessons and Lovers tomorrow (April 24, 2020)! Wonky Tonk & the High Life have been a tourcing force for the past few years, releasing singles along the way. I came into this review expecting great music, along with the sincerity and vulnerability I’ve come to know from Wonky Tonk & the High Life. I got all this and more with Lessons and Lovers.
Lessons and Lovers is a concise journey through the hardship of life and love, with each song sharing personal narratives of the two. What makes Lessons and Lovers a magical record, is the light at the end of the tunnel of hardship. This is no surprise given Wonky Tonk’s previous work and message. Going into this album, I expected to hear songs of perseverance, although I was not too sure how that message would be presented. What we get from Lessons and Lovers is a celebration of the journey of hurt and more importantly, healing.
Wonky Tonk & the High Life start Lessons and Lovers with an intimate introduction to perseverance. Titled, "Patti Smith," we are introduced to a narrator who is “strong and capable”. Being just under two minutes in length, "Patti Smith" is a strong opener, letting us know this album will touch on pain -- but also strength.
"Crying Shame" starts with the sound we have come to know and love from Wonky Tonk & the High Life. The song differs from its predecessor by having a full band, perfect for dancing away the stress of the day. We hear reminiscing and perhaps not being fully over a former lover with lyrics such as “I called out your name, all I got was a crying shame.” "Crying Shame’s" message seems to be understanding that you have not fully gotten over the heap of heartbreak, but having optimism that you will. Until that last heap, "Crying Shame" is about being comfortable with your emotions, even if that involves a few tears.
"Never Trust a Doctor" confronts the hardships of revisiting the pain of a previous time in your life. The song revisits the hope that comes with a new chapter, but also revisiting the hurt. While this can be rather painful, having "Never Trust a Doctor" is a very important song to have in an album titled Lessons and Lovers. We don’t know how these new chapters will end until they happen. "Never Trust a Doctor" explores the strength of confronting the pain, and gaining a new lesson as those chapters close. The songwriting in this song is incredible and, at times, heartbreakingly honest.
Continuing with the topic of songwriting, "Stock Market" is a cleverly penned track comparing the stock market to love. Being one of my favorite songs played live by Wonky Tonk & the High Life, I was very happy to hear the seamless combination of hurt and clever wordplay translate so perfectly to the record. Sticking with the overarching theme of Lessons and Lovers, "Stock Market" shifts focus to the lesson of remembering self love with the lyrics, “learning how to love myself.”
About halfway through the record, we come to "Wonk On." When hearing the first few lines of the track, I got a sense of this song being a turning point. "Wonk On" genuinely feels like the moment of self-reflection, the moment of stopping to take deep breaths, the moment where you begin to pick up the pieces, and start to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- the lesson of your hardships. "Wonk On" does not negate the pain -- it accepts it, and accepts the growth. This is a very powerful track with a powerful message. It’s a personal stand out on the record.
If "Wonk On" was a turning point, "Inspire Me" is the new beginning. I couldn’t help but smile throughout "Inspire Me." Through the acceptance in "Wonk On," there is a renewed sense of jovial optimism in "Inspire Me." With a charming melody you can’t help but to smile to, "Inspire Me" sounds like the soundtrack to a new chapter in life. Wonky Tonk acknowledges in the track she “don’t usually write songs like this”, but I am definitely glad she wrote this one.
"Suitors" has become a Wonky Tonk & the High Life staple with good reason! A fun, almost coy song that could be taken a few different ways. On the surface, "Suitors" describes the sometimes comical side of dating new people, specifically seeing past the facade that is created. On the other hand, Wonky Tonk has explained "Suitors" is also in references to the posers we meet. Either way you take it, "Suitors" is a fun song that, again, translated the joy of a live performance to a recording with spectacular production.
Lessons and Lovers' next track, "Peter Pan From Brooklyn," has a slightly different sound from the previous tracks. The music and production is hypnotic, making you lose yourself in the song. "Peter Pan From Brooklyn" is a very interesting song, almost mysterious. The intrigue of “the girl with a steel heart” and “the man in the sun” is heightened by the swaying music.
We move from Peter Pan to Brian in "Everyone’s Got a Brian." I love this song. Simply put, this song is titled "Everyone’s Got a Brian," and has the anthemic chorus, “fuck you Brian, fuck you Brian, fuck you”. I don’t know who the Brian in this song is, and I probably don’t know who the person next to me’s Brian is. But we all have one at different points in our lives, and this track is perfect for when we reach our breaking point. This is a great, catchy song, and one that I will revisit -- some days more than others!
For the second to last song, we get to "The ‘Nasti." Off the bat, we hear a placidly brilliant introduction. There is something comforting or familiar in the tone, but at the same time cautious. This intro is further elucidated upon in the exceptional lyrics. "The ‘Nasti" dives into the juxtaposition of “having a house” while not feeling home. Wonky Tonk’s vocals with the music production on "The ‘Nasti" shine through this track. Similar to the intro, Wonky Tonk’s vocals are serene, but equally as vigilant and confident throughout.
The closer of the album comes to us in "Lessons." Truthfully, this is one of the best closing songs I’ve heard to an album in some time. Lessons and Lovers speaks to the trials and tribulations of life, along with the lessons that come from them. "Lessons" summarizes the album in a beautiful way, speaking on growth, love, and of course, lessons. This stripped down track is consistent with the hope set by Lessons and Lovers.
Wonky Tonk & the High Life’s Lessons and Lovers certainly did not disappoint. The music, songwriting, and voice are all extraordinary. Wonky Tonk & the High Life all work in a congruent manner that produces remarkable music. That being said, what really makes Lessons and Lovers special is the message it sends. Hardships, pain, heartbreak, and sorrow are unfortunate parts of life. Lessons and Lovers is a reminder that through those tough times, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and also a light inside of us.
I’m so happy this record exists. Thank you Wonky Tonk & the High Life for this album Thank you for spreading the message of Lessons and Lovers. Wonk on.