Cooking Vinyl 2013
Barley Scotch opts for a so(m)ber outlook – with a HAYSEED DIXIE kind of merriment in the back seat.
For all the straight-faced allusion to a Grant Wood’s painting, how un-American can be a reading of THE JAM’s “Eton Rifles” by a Nashville native? In our times, not very much, even though John Wheeler delivers this formerly quintessential English song in a desperately solemn, piano-led, Cat Stevens’ style. But Wheeler lives in Cambridge now and, on his solo debut, goes under his own name rather than intoxicant Barley Scotch to stress the serious slant of new songs such as the shimmering “Wondering Why I Ever Go Home” and aching ballad “Kuss Mich Noch Einma”. Obviously, being in a band whose schtick is playing rock hits in a bluegrass fashion can be tiresome, especially after nearly nine months spent on the road – alone on a motorbike, apart from the ensemble – in 2011, when all of the album was written. Save, of course, for the only other cover on offer, Dylan’s dry “Masters Of War”.
Yet there’s always a light in the gloom, right from the end-of-the-world opener “Down At The Exit” which oozes optimism from its acoustic strum and short rockabilly solo to closing vaudeville stroll of “Walk Between The Raindrops”, through “Street Sweeper Lullaby” that rolls out the soulful blues down the street. And while Appalachian starkness seeps from the fiddle-flecked flow of “Little Houses In A Row” that in “Black Forest Skies” turns into a spiritual, baroque hymn, klezmer instrumentation gives the infectious “Doomsday Dance” a grave-dancing, bittersweet taste, as the artist’s patented humor keeps afloat even the most socioeconomic-charged pieces like the gently swinging “Deeper In Debt”. Miles away from those early AC/DC jigs, this is perfect record for our times, a barnstorming and brainstorming success.