REVIEW: The Way Down Wanderers’ “Illusions” is a Worthy Experiment in Bluegrass Genre

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The Way Down Wanderers’ new album, Illusions, reaches beyond the boundaries of bluegrass to span across multiple genres, from pop, blues, and roots rock, even to reggae and rap. This becomes evidently clear by the fifth track, “All My Words,” which combines reggae rhythms and a mid-song rap with a closing Foggy Mountain Breakdown-style banjo. The Wanderers incorporate the vocal sounds of the Beach Boys as easily on the title track as they do the influence of the Band’s “Cripple Creek” on “Heartland” and Bo Diddley on “She’s Alright.”

Coming from Peoria, Illinois, in the middle of the country, puts the Way Down Wanderers in a central position to catch all the musical currents. Songwriters Austin Krause-Thompson and Collin Krause, who are brothers-in-law, work together as well as separately, bringing distinct voices to the lyrics. Collin brings classical training and a background playing mandolin and fiddle in a folk band, while Austin previously played drums in a rock rand. Jazz permeates the band’s sound through percussionist John Merikoski, while classical influences the Wanderers by way of upright bassist John Williams. Banjo player Travis Kowalsky rounds out the five-piece outfit, with keyboardist Roger Manning contributing to the project. Grammy winner David Schiffman (Johnny Cash, HAIM, System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine), produced, mixed, and engineered the album at L.A.’s Sargent Studios and Chicago’s Shirk Studios.

Thematically steeped in past folklore, the Wanderers’ rhythmically modern, roots-influenced songs—all originals except the lead track, “Principles of Salt,” written by Indianapolis singer-songwriter Joshua Powell—cover a wide range of subjects, from love (“Heartlands”) to friendship (“Old Ford”), creativity (“All My Words”), the beauty of nature (“Crooked Pines”, “Carolina Moonglow”). “Patient Pretender” is about Austin and his wife adopting a stray puppy off the snowy streets of Chicago.

With Illusions, the Way Down Wanderers have produced a worthy experiment with form and genre in bluegrass music. The self-released album is available on sale now.

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