Throw Down is a 14-song excursion through stomping traditionals, well-chosen covers of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash tunes, and fiery originals by various Wilders members. It’s kind of a surprise that this, their fourth studio recording, is the first to include any of this original material. Whether it’s the swing and humor of bassist Nate Gawron’s “Honky Tonk Habit” or the somber lament of Sheldon’s “When I Get To Heaven,” it’s immediately apparent that these guys (and gal) can write just as fine as they can play.
I’ve heard the sound that many other “old-time” bands make described as “watching an old jalopy flying down the road at a hundred miles an hour with parts flying off every few feet” — and in many cases it’s a fair assessment.
A group really needs to know how to play with each other. They need to have real chops, and they need to know more than just the songs. They’ve got to know the music itself to do it right. In the case of The Wilders, well, their jalopy is in fine shape, runs great and won’t be throwing a rod any time soon. Hearing them rip through “It’ll Never Be Through With Us (Until It’s Through With You)” is proof enough.
But as easy as it is to count out the merits of Throw Down, it’s also interesting to dig a bit into the history of the band. It’s the roundabout manner in which the members found their way back to traditional music that’s the kicker.
Singer/guitarist Ike Sheldon wandered out as far as opera before working his way back, albeit via several “nerdy pop” bands. Multi-instrumentalist Phil Wade spent many gigs cross-legged on a fancy rug in a coffee house with a sitar, joined by violinist Betse Ellis, performing a kind of Indian-folk-fusion. Bassist Nate Gawron likewise spent a whole lot of time doing everything else but country. Yet somehow, all these musicians wandered right back into the music of their childhoods and found a home.
Hearing Throw Down is a reminder of the difference between playing a “new” version of this music and simply performing it the right way. Dirk Powell’s production is warm and clear but far from glossy — not quite just a bunch of players huddled ‘round a microphone, but close.
If you close your eyes and concentrate, you can really hear the inside of the guitar on “When I Get To Heaven.” The album closer, “January Waltz,” has a feel akin to a late afternoon glance out the window on a cold day, with the sun fading in the trees. Frankly, if these were the only two songs on the CD, it’d be worth it. Considering the wealth of material on Throw Down, it’s a steal.
Highly recommended. 4 stars.