Album Review: The Wynntown Marshals - The Long Haul
The Long Haul represents the second full-length album by Americana exponents, The Wynntown Marshals. Former in Edinburgh in 2007, the band have supported some prominent Americana artists such as Chuck Prophet and Jason & the Scorchers, while appearing on such notable genre radio shows as Ricky Ross and "Whispering" Bob Harris. Not a bad haul for a band with one full length and couple of EPs to their names. US-based site, No Depression, even went so far as to name their first album a contender for debut of 2010. Not bad for a band from Scotland, but will the second album live up to this?
One of the things that piqued my interest in this album was as straightforward as the band's influences. Listed amongst the names were three that are close to my heart - Neil Young, The Jayhawks and Wilco. Opening track 'Driveaway' certainly slots right in beside these influences, giving a nice blend rather than straight up mimicry. The vocal that leads off the sing is heartfelt and sounds great. The rhythm section are perfect harmony, kicking up a really nice tempo while the keyboard sounds really fresh. There's a really great key change midway on what is a cracking opener. 'Canada' kicks off with a really great guitar before settling into a steady tempo. That rhythm section once again gets my toes tapping and my head nodding along appreciatively. Keys and guitar add some nice touches throughout and then I hit musical heaven - handclaps and killer harmonies. Lovely. It's a very good track that ebbs and flows very nicely throughout.
'Low Country Comedown' has some big drums over a slightly more melancholic guitar, which I suppose is apt give the song title. The pedal steel guitar sounds fantastic on this track as well, as does the lead vocal. I couldn't help but think that these must be some mistake as to the band's geographical history. This can't be the work of Scots? It's pure Americana and bloody good to boot. 'Whatever It Takes' slows the tempo down with an acoustic lead guitar and some sparse drums. The pedal steel guitar again sounds beautiful and adds texture and character. Add in the keyboard and this is an early leader as my favourite track. 'Tide' opens with a nice steady bass and drums, while the guitars flit back and forth creating some interesting sounds tht are almost counterpoint to the steady rhythm. They're like bright flashes on a darkened sky. The keyboards add more colur and depth to the sound on this track, which takes you on an interesting journey and comes at you from different angles. Another cracking song.
'The Submariner' kicks off at a decent tempo with the drums sounding like a train rattling along in the Mid West somewhere. It's nice and upbeat until about a minute before the end when there's a big change of pace, but it's not lasting and is a nice diversion. It sounds a bit like the music has gone below the surface of water at first, before the cymbals crash like waves against the rocks, before the song surfaces again. Another brisk track follows in the shape of 'Crashing (Like The Reds)'. Big drums and a good tempo which sweeps you along and evokes Wilco ore than any other track, particularly vocally. There's some streling guitar work and drumming, especially on the chorus and the way the keyboard underpins it all is particularly good.
There's a slightly mournful feel initially on 'Curtains Call'. The lyrics are a little darker also (here I sit in this stingy room/alone with needle, tourniquet and spoon). It's quite heart-wrenching and reminded me a little of the starkness you feel on Neil Young's 'Needle and the Damage Done'. Not the content as such, just that uncomfortable feeling that the song gives you. It's stripped down and raw and rather excellent.'North Atlantic Soul' lifts the mood, with the full band involved. Initially it's almost a shock after the low key, emotional 'Curtains Call', but the catchy chorus soon hooks you. There are some great harmonies and your mood is soon swept upwards by the tempo. Final track 'Change of Heart' starts with an interesting acoustic guitar, before the pedal steel guitar and keyboard also come in. The rhythm section sets out nice, steady tempo and the addition of Diane Christiansen from Chicago's Dolly Varden on vocals adds a nice contrast to Keith Benzie's voice. It's a really nice closing track to a very good album.
I realy liked this album a lot. It ebbs a flows and there's never a feeling of sameness to the tracks. At every turn they change things up, throw in a sad, melancholic track then hit you with a more traditional Americana tempo and sound. The influences are there to hear, but there's a ton of originality too. They take the influences and craft them into something new and special. If you fancy grabbing a copy, or previewing the tracks head on over to the bands website which links to bandcamp here.
You can also catch them live in the coming months around the UK/European album release on 15th July. Dates confirmed so far are:
12th July at Broadcast, Glasgow (Album Launch)
13th July at Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh (Album Launch)
26th July at The Holly Tree, Dinnet
27th July in Aberdeen, venue TBC
Ticket links can be found here on the band's website.