PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Wrinkle Neck Mules: Apprentice to Ghosts

Virginia country rockers release a strong set.

Wrinkle Neck Mules

Apprentice to Ghosts

Label: Lower 40
US Release date: 2012-02-21
UK Release date: 2012-06-04

Virginia's Wrinkle Neck Mules have been around for a while, releasing albums since the year 2000 to a growing fanbase. Exploring the fertile crossroads between rock and country, the outfit is essentially a rock band with a country-bluegrass heart, or perhaps vice versa. Apprentice to Ghosts is their fifth album, and although a touch inconsistent, it still has many pleasures to offer.

Roughly speaking, the record divides itself into three parts, opening strongly with a trio of solid tunes before sagging into a somwhat lethargic midsection, then closing strongly once again.

Album opener "When the Wheels Touch Down" is an unexpectedly slow and intrspective way to kick off the proceedings, building as it does from a simple strummed guitar and vocal before ramping up into something altogether more impassioned and bombastic. The vocals are terrific, filled with quavering angst; the record credits all five musicians with vocal duties, so it's tough to know who sings what and when. In amy case, the song builds a terrific platform for the next two tunes, which are the strongest on the record.

The first of those two, "Stone Above Your Head", is a straight-ahead rocker with is more boot-stompingly raucous than anything else on the record. That's too bad, because it's great fun, and features a gritty, grungy guitar tone that is a perfect accompaniment to the warbling, vaguely pissed-off vocals. Follow-up tune "On Wounded Knee" is more chug-a-lug than full-tilt, but is every bit as hook-laden and fiesty. With these first songs in the three-to-four-minute range, Wrinkle Neck Mules establish themselves as inspired purveyors of fully-formed rocking country goodness.

It's a shame, then, that this promise is left unfulfilled by the next stretch of songs, that range from the oddly forgettable title track to the almost-schmaltzy "Leaving Chattanooga", and encompassing a trio of songs that share a certain lassitude. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with "Patience in the Shadows" or "Parting of the Clouds," they're just lackluster compared to what has come before.

Not until "Liberty Bell" does the record return to its previous high standards. "Liberty Bell" is no rocker — in fact it's one of the slowest tunes here — but its intensity comes, again, from the soulful vocal and powerful, see-saw chord progression. Happily, this is a harbinger of the songs to come, with "Banks of the James" injecting one more dose of pedal steel swing before the peppy, we're-not-taking-this-too-seriously stomp of "Central Daylight Time" flashes with rare humor.

Apprentice to Ghosts ends on a note that swings between somber and celebratory. "Dry Your Eyes" features some terrific harmony singing and an arrangement that places the vocals front and center, with deft touches of organ and banjo to create an overwhelming sense of defiant wistfulness. Lines like "There's no need to stoke up the fire / It's warm enough when you breathe" serve to remind the listener that these honky-tonk rockers posses a rare streak of lyricism. The song's chorus of "Dry your eyes, never grow old" could be taken both as a celebration of youthful spirit, or as a darker exhortation to suicide.

Such dichotomies lie at the heart of Wrinkle Neck Mules, and are a powerful reason why, even if they don't quite ignite on every song here, this is still a record well worth listening to.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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