Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it the eerie sound of an unhinged door on a stormy night? No, it’s music, sweet music, melodies, smooth and soothing, but punctuated with wild aggression and soaring, screeching crescendos. Is it folk? Is it pop?... country?... or is it jazz? Well, the answer is that it’s not a plane, but bits of everything else, which means it’s, therefore, Americana, and Albi & The Wolves are off to this year’s AmericanaFest in Nashville in September to play their new album, their sophomore effort, This Is War.
Albi & The Wolves have been around in New Zealand for a little while, and released a debut album, to much acclaim, in 2016. Eyes Wide Open helped win them a Tui Best Folk Artist Award in 2018.
Three guys with diverse musical backgrounds playing string instruments with energy and flair. You might think Stephane Grappelli, you might also hear the screeching cacophony of Papa John Creach ( Hot Tuna, Jefferson Airplane, then Starship), losing control before subsiding into the smooth sweet vocals of Chris Dent and his acoustic guitar, supported by the jazzy double bass beat of Michael Young, in whose studio the recording was done under the watchful eyes of Scott Seabright. And that’s virtuoso Pascal Roggen doing the wild bits on the electric violin. Not all wild though, building wild from a tuneful interplay with the other musicians, and occasional banjo.
And you might hear the harmonies of a Simon & Garfunkel, or a more contemporary Milk Carton Kids. And…by their own admission, you definitely can hear the progressive bluegrass of The Punch Brothers, although these guys (Albi & Co) are much more structured, happy drunks, not punch drunks. So you put all those bits together and you get a very fine sound from a very fine band making a very fine album.
The album opens with the high energy title track This Is War, the tempo only constrained by the demands of a concise recording framework. Promising a wild, less constrained serving live. Closing Time slows down the tempo and builds nicely on Chris’ vocal to allow a brief flurry of violin energy before falling back into sweet harmony. Pleasant, but there’s better to come.
This Is War comes out on July 26th and is full of songs, so ‘Albi’ tells us, which tell “stories about people we have met on the road, it’s about them and for them at the same time.”
Wayfaring Stranger opens with fireside banjo and a not unfamiliar country folk beat. Chris Dent shows off his range in this gentle country-folk tune. Very nice. Instrumental interlude brings back the jazz tinges.
Oh Father just fails to take off, but I’d Go Anywhere rescues the moment with a beautiful melody featuring harmonies from the Hamilton duo Looking For Alaska, with a solo by Amy Maynard from the same duo.
Waiting For A Train invokes Milk Carton Kids with soft harmonies over acoustic and softer violin. And there is Tom Broome on drums. One of the best tracks.
It Ain’t Easy also features Eagle-like harmonies before jumping into a fast-paced, foot-stomping bluegrass mode. Nat Torkington guesting on banjo.
Another very fine moment as Something In The Way puts some country and swing into the folk and all of a sudden we are in the ballroom at a hoe-down.
The pace slows again as we pick and pluck our way into Story but the song meanders rather than menaces. Stuck in the middle of the road. Then sparks a little near the end but fizzles… or maybe it’s purpose is just to introduce the final song, and another one of the best as Canyon picks up the tempo with all the instruments on show, pounding along…”I want to thank you for being in my life” may be a cliché, but to me sums up my overall feeling about the album.
This Is War isn’t going to change the world, it’s not going to end up as a Trumpian overture (thank goodness), but it sure does make an impact, and we are better off for it, and all the very best to Albi & The Wolves as they go from the Kiwi frying pan into the AmericanaFest cauldron.
Don’t take my word for it, have a listen, get down to Southbound Records and grab a physical copy on July 26th.
Also, catch Albi & The Wolves during their album release NZ tour.
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Released: 26 Jul 2019