J.D. Wilkes’ brand new release Fire Dream (Big Legal Mess) is a stunningly imaginative celebration. Co-produced by Bruce Watson (of Fat Possum Records) and Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers) who also provided drum rhythms; it features Matt Patton (Drive By Truckers), Liz Brasher on vocals, the Bo-Keys on horns, and the shadowy virtuoso known as“Dr. Sick” (Justin Carr) on fiddle and electric guitar. The album combines features dreamed up in Wilkes’ hillbilly laboratory mind with sounds that’ll so captivate your fancy that you’ll have no idea how to categorize what you are hearing. It’s that innovative. The entire album is gypsy fantasy meets hillbilly grit.
Listen only to the first 60 seconds of the first song on the album, “Fire Dream,” and there’s no doubt you’ll be completely hooked. Not only that, but you won’t know what instruments are making the sounds. The frolicking fluidity of the sound you hear might be attributable to the wildly intricate playing of the mysterious fiddle wizard “Dr. Sick.” He plays, but only after he’s wrapped a hair from his bow around the fiddle strings, and slowly pulled it out. (You’re welcome for that clarification!) But there’s also a old-timey 64 key Tom Thumb piano in the mix, and live vocals tracks captured with everyone standing around the mic.
The title track song opens with the lyric, in Wilkes’ gritty “Tom Waites-esque” imperative tone, “Lithe undulation in the dead of the night.” “Walk” “between the raindrops” has a rhythm that evokes belly dancers in the woods. “Hidey Hole” is a catchy yet macabre song describing underground apocalyptic safehouse bunkers by saxophone. The opening sequence of “Hoboes” again tickles the auditory senses of propriety.
Wilkes creates fiery landscapes and tends to bury his genuine emotions on this one, but an ardent treasure-hunter will find them on “Starlings”, and if you listen to the end (and you will) you’ll find them again on “What Would They Say.” “Wild Bill” is like a square dance, Wilkes-style, with a whirlwind violin extravaganza; and then there’s a traditional “Rain” (a.k.a. Cold Rain and Snow) to solidify the hillbilly roots. But there’s also “Bible Candle” which continues the innovative brokering between carnival and americana tradition.
Even diehard Americana fans who usually need their “sadness button” pushed will appreciate the pure genius novelty of this album.
Open a new window on your screen now, now! And buy this record. You need it. Get it here.