Wild Ponies: Things That Used to Shine

Some good tunes leaven an otherwise tame offering.

Wild Ponies

Things That used to Shine

Label: Ditch Dog
US release date: 2013-09-10
UK release date: Import
Label website
Artist website

Wild Ponies run the gamut of styles from folk to Americana to alt-country, stepping deftly from easygoing swing to Crazy Horse-ish rattle-and-thump to the plaintive sentimentality of traditional twangin' country (which has little in common with Nashville's silky-smooth version of the same). It's an impressive range, and one marked with confidence and panache, but in general, the band is more successful (read: interesting) when they inject a little more muscle into their compositions.

The band is built around the Virginia-born brother-sister duo of Doug and Telisha Williams, with Jake Winebrenner on drums and a number of backing musicians. Sweet-voiced Telisha also plays bass and keyboards, while Doug sings on a few tracks and contributes guitar. A capable stable of musicians fleshes out their sonic palette, but the defining factor in most of these songs is the voice, either Telisha's sweet, slightly wistful tones or Doug's more rugged, straightforward delivery.

The album kicks off with what is probably the strongest track, a downtempo, quietly angst-ridden stomper called "Make You Mine" that channels more than a little 1970s Neil Young in its guitar crunch and heavily reverberated echoes. There are plenty of bands that seek to recreate Crazy Horse's shambling grandeur, but this outfit does so especially well, and with Telisha's unaffected vocals oozing longing and hurt above the mishmash, the song achieves something very close to greatness.

It's a shame, then, that this painstakingly crafted, sounds-sloppy-but-is-actually-tight approach is soon set aside for other, sleeker types of craftsmanship. Follow-up tune "The Truth Is" is a bouncy little number that swaths its cynical lyrics in an easily digestible pop nugget, while "Trigger" is a female revenge fantasy that somehow feels lightweight, notwithstanding its pointed lyrics.

Although Telisha sings on this opening trifecta of tunes and, thus, establishes the tone of the band to some degree, Doug contributes lead vocals to the gentle swing of "Things That Used to Shine", "Valentine's Day" and "Massy's Run". Coincidentally or not, these tunes, especially the first two, are among the most by-the-book traditional on the whole record, in terms of instrumentation, melody and structure. They're also sentimental as hell (again, particularly the first two). That's part of the tradition too, of course.

Doug also offers up an album highlight on penultimate tune "Revival Wasteland". Over glittering guitar twang, fiddle accents and swooping pedal steel, he delivers some sort of laconic statement of faith: "I'm not sure I believe in God, but I guess he believes in me". It's an unguarded song that eschews all the easy sentiment of earlier tracks like "Things That Used to Shine" or even Telisha's heartfelt but somewhat twee ode to her grandmother, "Iris", and its toughness points up the easiness of those other songs.

Such sentiments are in the ear of the beholder, of course, and many listeners may number these tracks among their favorites. Certainly, the musicianship on the record is impeccable, with the siblings' twinned voices on many songs providing a level of sonic depth that exceeds what either could have done alone. This is by no means a bad record, and the band has moments when it conjures genuine excitement. For the moment, though, they remain only moments.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.