Now this is how I like my country music. Despite the questionable band name, Wrinkle Neck Mules are a talented 5 piece from Richmond that, like most country bands I enjoy, dabble in folk, bluegrass, and rock. The entire album is littered with mandolin, pedal steel and banjo played amazingly well. The instrumentation here is full and detailed but never takes away from the whole of the songs themselves (even if “Black Skies for the High & Mighty” is the band’s self described ‘mando porn’).
It might simply be the genres that lend themselves so well to this type of rich arrangement but it’s one of the band’s strongest talents. On the easy going “Cadillac Limousine” the pedal steel and mandolin help turn an otherwise laid back, pretty song into something of a masterpiece that makes me want to take a long ass drive to I-don’t-give-a-fuck, USA.
With Andy Stepanian and Chase Heard writing the majority of material you also get two singers who I appreciate equally (though I prefer the whiskey growl of what I believe to be Stepanian). Both singers suit the material and other than the vocals I probably couldn’t-or wouldn’t want to-differentiate between the two as writers. These songs are dark in their lyrics but get yanked back from the gloom by the dichotomy of the intensely bright arrangements. The music seems to represent some kind of hopefulness punching through the nature of the words.
The band’s opening track, “Bells & Whistles” immediately brought to mind Steve Earle’s, “Copperhead Road” with what I first assumed was a jumpy piano and only later realized was mandolin. My favorite pick, “Cumberland Sound”, could have come straight out of the songbook of Drive By Trucker’s Mike Cooley. The entire album varies in tempo and pace and all the while maintains a sense of unity among the songs, perhaps because of that duality of bright and dark used throughout. The raucous opener and equally uptempo closer,”Broken Rider”, bookend the album fairly well considering the wealth of variety within. While there are just one or two clunkers, this is a country album made for those of you who can’t stand a Nashville shit sandwich.
The more I listen to this the more I love it. I want to get in my truck right now and just go.