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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Wilkinson Blades

4:00 AM

Review by Larry Toering

Wilkinson Blades are a Northwest band on the Shiftone Records label. The group features former Gravelpit member Steve Wilkinson, along with excellent players with whom he chooses to work. In this case that means Rob Stroup, Grant Cumpston, Rich Lander, Jonathan Buyer, Sara Jean Zito, Rachael Taylor Brown, Drew Norman, Professor Gall, Sean Flora, Anthony Lambright, and Pete Vercelotti. That is a lot of great first class musicians in one line-up. It is surely one of the reasons these songs and their sound together is so great. The way they blend is magical as they flow and swirl around together like butter churning in a mixer. The genres combined here are pretty widely assorted as well, but the music is essentially Americana. Still,  inflections of everything from folk and psychedelic rock, to country, bluegrass and even pop can be heard clearly. Most of the tracks are penned by Wilkinson himself, with the exception of a few co-written and one cover of a great classic “Some Velvet Morning.” Shiftone are on the rise, and they're taking this band with them, and this comes much recommended. The title centers around the time of morning where Wilkinson’s best ideas come to light in his head, when things really start cooking for him. There were many friends involved in getting a band sound without the confinements of a band, including some co-wrting from the excellent Nick Peets, and also Rob Barteletti. They both put in such fine contributions that they deserve mentioning as part of the recording.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
No Exit
This is a great opener that sets up the whole melancholy vibe to be found throughout the disc. It starts off soft and smooth and maintains that romantic feel with occasional bursts of elating energy that remain in the mix. It also contains a searing guitar bite that doesn't for one second begin to threaten the whole feeling of the track. This is great stuff for anyone to sink their ears into.
Bug River Blues
The pace is upped a notch here without getting too far away from the groove of the first number. It's not always easy to know where Wilkinson is coming from, but it seems to be all spelled out in the lyrics. This is another great tune with some clever words. It contains a slight country vibe, the kind that is more of the Cash nature than modern country stylings. It's not a hardcore approach to that, just a hint or so. This somehow reminds me of the aforementioned Cash and Roy Orbison, with a few rockier elements thrown in. It is excellent, indeed.
No One Alive
If the disc has any stand out number this would probably be it for me. What a fabulous tune this is. By this time the listener is already potentially impressed enough to call it all good. I absolutely love this and simply cannot get enough of it. Just push “repeat” and let it play over and over, that's what I do. This is killer!
Scared Of You
The country and bluegrass element is never dominating but it is there. Here’s where it gets the biggest nod, with the bells on boots slapping a “stompbox,” and a banjo to round it out. A gruff vocal with a vintage microphone effect and slide guitar top the whole thing off with a menacing charm to it. But make no mistake, this is pure Americana style rock 'n roll at its finest. It’s a short but to the point number with a lot of gut level appeal.
Some Velvet Morning
This track, written by Lee Hazelwood and originally sung by him with Nancy Sinatra, is where things get quite psychedelic and also hang around close to the title and what this release is all about. The track is a full blown duet with female singer Sara Jean Zito, and she provides a slightly haunting ambiance to the whole thing. It’s another surrealistically arranged tune that is impossible to get out of your head once it's in there. I would consider this in the top four featured tracks on offer.
Crippled Mind
This is one of the lower key tunes with a real hangover vibe to it that feeds the title and concept very well. It helps to convey what it's really all about on this disc. It has a very “note to self” feel throughout. Written by former member of Napalm Beach, Chris Newman, it really keeps the whole vibe intact.
Sunshine Now
At this point Wilkinson and company can do no wrong, as the psychedelic element comes on at its strongest on this lovely piece of work.. There is really no way to dismiss its awesomeness. What a sweet groove this is. It one of the tracks that I can’t recommend enough. This is perfect for dancing on the patio with a cold one.
Holding Me Down
It just never ends, as this track contains all of the various colors to be found in this band. A killer banjo picking holds it all together. Once again, you have to love this band here. What another massively contagious vibe we get with this tune.
It Might Hit Me
This one is a bit more high energy with that same sort of storytelling quality that Wilkinson is an expert at delivering. It’s another excellent showing from everyone involved. There is not one flaw to mention whatsoever about all of these tunes.
Wishing I'd Never Known You
Another fine song, this is probably aimed at the female audience. It is delivered with the same quality as the rest on offer.
Walking In The Snow
After some getting used to, this is another one for which I have a soft spot. It always puts me in such a trance that I can't help but let it go back into the first number without hesitation, as they proceed to mesmerize the senses in such a hypnotic way. This is a perfect way to close the disc and get the listener longing for a repeat. It is enormously satisfying to say the very least.
 
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