PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Wagons: Rumble, Shake and Tumble

Jonathan Kosakow

Just ignore the first song, and you’ll find a band rooted in gritty country, rock ‘n’ roll, and infectious foot stomping.


Wagons

Rumble, Shake and Tumble

Label: Spunk
US Release Date: 2011-08-16
UK Release Date: 2011-08-16
Amazon
iTunes

The Aussie group Wagons, lead by Henry Wagons, comes at us with roots in the deepest of Americana, despite the distance of their hometowns. In just about every song those influences are prevalent: a voice like Johnny Cash, a swing like Elvis Presley, and an insightful honesty like Hank Williams. Wagons’ accent from down under comes out occasionally, but then only when you’re listening for it. At other times, though there is always a basis in rock and country, there is a hint of cabaret and soul that sneaks into the melodies. It is absolutely necessary to note how authentically American the band comes off, even though they hail from the literal opposite side of the globe.

If you want to get to know this band, press "next" before you hit "play" on their latest release, Rumble, Shake and Tumble. Track one is an obvious radio song, and as soon as the second song begins, you’ll get the unfortunate news that Wagons are willing to completely change their sound to make a single radio hit. Thankfully, the rest of the album really is magnificent. Past that first track, you’ll find a band rooted in gritty country, rock ‘n’ roll, and infectious foot stomping.

From just after that opening tune ("Downlow") all the way through the disc-ending "Mary Lou", Rumble, Shake and Tumble delivers exactly what the album title says it will. With his deep bass, low grumble, and drunk-ish slur, Henry Wagons is able to convey surprising tenderness even when singing over raucous clanging and pounding. "I Blew It", the second track on the album and first one that gives you a true feel for the band, is a perfect example. While the band of six kicks down a proverbial steel door with their pounding, Henry laments a verse complete with qualities that run throughout the entire record: rugged masculinity, humour, humility and regret: "I dodged a few bullets in my time / Narrowly escaped with a fully intact hide / One thing I completely screwed / Yeah, I blew it when it came to you."

That same way with words prevails throughout the record. Henry delivers his lyrics with a brutally honest, at times depressing, yet somehow witty tone. His apparent propensity for looking on the bright side prevails, even if his words on paper are less than hopeful. The mid-way verse of "Moon Into the Sun" begs, "Everybody tells me things will heal with time / But I have seen these hands spin a million miles / Please, please lift me from this downright funk / Douse my flames with a fire truck." Later, somehow almost happily, he proclaims, "Oh how I love you, how I love you true / My life has been a fuckin’ mess without you."

However, it’s not all sun-poking-through-clouds. In fact, if you don’t focus on the lyrics, you’d probably get the impression that Wagons are a rather fun-loving band – what shows through most is their rascality and probable back bar gruffness. At other times, there is a straight humour, an appreciation for life that makes you forget some of the downtrodden sentiments of songs. A chant of "It’s sizzlin’, cracklin’, smokin’ and fizzlin’" to describe his burning love is a refrain throughout "Love Is Burning". In "Willie Nelson" – an ode to a favourite – Henry demands he’d like to know something special about Willie, to which his bandmate (credited as Matty Softmoods) responds quite seriously with a chant: "He likes some salt and pepper with his evening meal."

The standout ballad on the album, "My Daydreams", is an acoustic ode to a long distance lover, a home missed, and a rattling mind. Again, Henry’s brutal honesty is like a punch to the stomach. The song gains a Neil Young-ish rust with each progressive verse, and does not leave much room for the funny stuff.

As Henry himself puts it, "I wanted the album to reflect the washing machine turbine we have been put through. This musicians’ spin cycle has been an amazing and dizzy time. I wanted to capture it on record, complete with highs and lows." And it worked. Throughout the record, you get the impression that it could have been recorded live. You can hear every personality of the six (and sometimes more) member band as if you’re watching them together on stage. There is an energy you can feel and a connection that is palpable. Henry may be the bandleader and driving creative force, but without the band to stand alongside him, the sound would not come together nearly as well. And thanks to that combined energy, you can understand the spin cycle he wants to convey

The album-closing "Mary Lou" is a much darker, more simplistic, angrily honest tune. Though the bulk of the song is played with an acoustic guitar plucking single notes amidst an escalating backdrop of ambient sound, it ends with a simple and sombre verse put to serve as an afterthought, recorded of different quality and written as a near entirely different tune. An interesting way to end an album in completely opposite fashion than it carried for its lifespan, but what other way to end a roller coaster ride than by turning us on our heads all over again.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.