REVIEW: Wood & Wire’s “North of Despair” is Country Bluegrass Serious Downhome Fun

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Wood & Wire’s new release North of Despair (Blue Corn Music) was recorded at The Zone in Texas and engineered by both Pat Manske and Erik Jaskowiak.   Tony Kamel played guitar, and wrote most of the album’s songs with Billy Bright contributing a couple numbers too. Bright showcased extensive mandolin work, playing various mandolins including a pair of Gibson F4s from 1913 and 1915.  Trevor Smith contributed the banjo throughout, with Dom Fisher on bass. The music covers a range of styles from country with a hint of bluegrass, to traditional and progressive bluegrass, but all along the way it’s 100% Americana music.

The band starts off working in a hybrid fashion with guitar, banjo and mandolins, presenting amalgamations of banjo using rhythms the way an alt-country guitar might, and then delving into songs with banjo taking the lead and sounding like both progressive and traditional bluegrass. The lead track, “Kingpin,” offers an offbeat – or perhaps more accurately, on the beat — interpretation with the banjo work playing behind a more traditional guitar, but by the time you’re into the 3rd and title song on the album, “North of Despair“ things will have really heated up, and Trevor Smith’s playing sounds more like progressive bluegrass.  The banjo playing at this point is in full swing.  “Eliza” and the instrumental jams “Summertime Rolls” and “Wingding” are more familiar bluegrass style frenetic numbers, again with Trevor Smith stealing the show. In “Just Don’t Make’ ‘Em” the band again shows its stuff dissolving off into an extended jam with a lyrical story about a hardworking Texan in the 1930s.   “Texas” beings us back into the territory of more traditional country style with Bright on some extended mandolin.   All in all, masterful work by all the players involved — Kamel, Bright, Smith and Fisher too.

Put some bluegrass into your collection this spring.  Get you copy of North of Despair and check it out for yourself, and then see if Wood & Wire is coming to your town this summer. Click right here

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