Mescal Canyon Records [Release date 15.03.19]
Wily Bo Walker’s ‘The Road We Ride’ offers much to digest both lyrically and musically.
Released under the strap line of ‘Three People – Two Paths – One Story’, it’s a film noir style musical road trip presented as a double concept album that flows from beginning to end.
It’s full of striking narratives brought to life by Walker’s coarse vocals and given purchase by ED Brayshaw’s tonal depth, occasional unison guitar lines and overall intensity.
From the striking cinematic art work of Zhana D’Arte, through Wily Bo Walker’s colourful narratives delivered with his lived-in husk, to ED Brayshaw’s searing guitar parts that snake through the heart of the album, we’re presented with a touchstone to our own imagination.
For while there’s a linear story at play, the more inspired musical moments and open-ended lyrics leave much to the listener’s own creativity.
On ‘Storm Warning’ for example, we get the portentous opening line of the hook: “There’s a storm warning on my radio…”, while on ‘Killer On The Run’, he draws us in with: “Well I don’t know what to say to you on that strange and fateful day, you turned around and smiled your smile and walked away.” This levers us into a busy musical piece full of piercing guitar lines, a gruff vocal and expansive bv’s, over a subtle pulsing bass line.
ED Brayshaw provides the spark, intensity and flow of an album comprising 13 story telling songs that contribute to a greater linear whole.
The 3 anti-heroes play out some timeless noir filled cinematic themes in which their every move is open to interpretation by the listener, but somehow you get the feeling that it will all end badly with their destiny already decided for them.
The music is expansive for a bluesy album shot through with Americana and rock like intensity. Wily Bo Walker’s jagged edged vocal is well matched to the material, particularly so on the opener, as he adopts the role of an ironic narrator. And as he concludes: “Nobody’s gonna buy in tornado land”, he immediately conjures up a landscape shot through with trepidation and fear.
He’s equally good with some John Martyn style slurred phrasing on ‘I Want To Know’, which lyrically drops us into the Deep South on the song’s hook, complete with a triangle in the mix.
It’s a slice of atmospheric cool offset by Karena K’s consistently good bv’s that frame Walker’s weather beaten vocals, as Brayshaw weaves an intricate guitar line.
Walker is equally good on a brace of covers, as he cleverly works Loudon Wainwright III’s ‘Motel Blues’ into the thematic fabric of the album, while he wraps his close-to-the-mic, whispered husky timbre round ‘Lend Me A Dime’.
His subtly slurred world-weary phrasing gives the Fenton Robinson penned, Boz Skaggs popularized classic an authentic feel. Only an unexpected tempo change over a drifting piano line and a sudden fade robs the song of its emotional intensity.
The really clever aspect to the album is the way that each miniature story sits quite happily on its own. From the big opening guitar figure of ‘Storm Warning’, through the musically busy ‘Killers On The Run’, to the full band bluster of ‘Night Of The Hunter’, the music gets inside the fugitives angst.
‘The Ballad of Johnny & Louise’ is the perfect example of a superb stand-alone track and another album highlight. It shines like a beacon even when placed deep into the albums running order, as Wily draws on every last gasp of his rough-hewn vocal over soaring bv’s, leading to ED Brayshaw climactic defining solo.
My only reservation would be that by the time of ‘Running Wild’ they are in danger of repeating themselves musically. No matter, the committed listener will probably be too engulfed in the story to worry about such matters.
By the time of the fretless bass intro to ‘Tennessee Blues (Three Stars In The Sunset…)’, Walker and Brayshaw focus more on the melody of a song that stands in counterpoint to the intensity of what has gone before.
The title track brings both musical and dynamic contrast, and feels like a sweeping big screen cinematic resolution, as Wily’s voice is mixed back into a beautifully layered sound.
The album is book ended by a short ‘Storm Warning (Reprise)’ with interwoven acoustic, slide and birdsong. An imaginary film director shouts cut and it’s all over.
‘The Roads We Ride’ may draw on familiar cinematic themes for its narratives, but a combination of Walker’s evocative phrasing, Brayshaw’s steely licks and Karena K’s ethereal bv’s make for unique musical imprint that marks out this album as special.
They may have put the cart before the horse, in as much as it sounds like a soundtrack from a movie yet to be made, but what a perfect teaser. Film noir never sounded so good. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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