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.
Music

King Wilkie: Broke

Michael Metivier

King Wilkie

Broke

Label: Rebel
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: 2004-05-03
Amazon
iTunes

Hey ladies -- do you like bean blossoms? Strawberries? Of course you do (though maybe not in the same dish). Regardless, I insist you look into travelling to a couple bluegrass festivals this summer named in honor of those tasty treats. You may get to sample some good home cooking, but more importantly you can check out the sounds of King Wilkie, a six-piece bluegrass band whose members could also be described as tasty treats. Check the cover artwork for Broke, their Rebel Records debut: young, handsome, clean-cut gents kicking back with coffee mugs, cigarettes, and a deck of cards; or dressed up nice in suits and ties, eyes trained on their instruments.

Kidding aside, it's pertinent to the music to note the images chosen to accompany this album of fine bluegrass covers and originals. Though bluegrass is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as of late, it's still the norm to associate the genre with old men with three teeth and corncob pipes instead of a musical tradition that is still pressing on with vigor. I'll bet you anything King Wilkie had fluoride in their wells growing up and it shows: their playing is gleaming and enamel-strong. The band is also more traditionalist than the current crop of fiddle and banjo playing upstarts. The music does not incorporate bluegrass elements into glam-rock, post-rock, or nerd-pop context: it's laid out straight, production courtesy of Bob Carlin (John Hartford, Dolly Parton). This is not to disparage indie rockers or trad-pickers, but it's an important distinction. When I want to rip King Wilkie because of the indistinct character of their originals, well, that's not really the point in the first place.

Broke is as solid a bluegrass album as you're likely to hear in 2004, and by bluegrass I mean that relative of country music that exists to make your ass move. The least you can do is clap your hands to the traditional "Little Birdie", or tap your toes to "Where the Old Red River Flows". Even the more low-key numbers can in no way be extricated from their strict rhythms. The lovely original "Lee & Paige", though mournful, is plucked out with metronome precision as if the song's relentless motion were a tonic for the sad story being described. Indeed, most of the songs are about longing, grief, regret, and loneliness, bounced around in cheerful arrangements and played with joy.

Abe Spear's banjo is stunning throughout the 13 tracks, from the instrumental opener "40 West" to its reprise at the album's end. All of the lead instruments have the capacity to make your jaw drop, and the cumulative effect of Broke is to wow you with King Wilkie's virtuosity. Nick Reeb's fiddling is clean and fluid, Ted Pitney's lead guitar strong and direct. The mandolin played by Reid Burgess is the most understated of the lead instruments, rippling in and out between the verses, and it's all held together by Drew Breaky's sturdy, unflinching bass. The vocals are also given the occasional time to shine. Whichever lad is belting out Jimmie Rodgers's "Blue Yodel #7" is having an infectious good time.

Which leads me to the one irritating factor on Broke. Who the hell are these guys? After a dozen listens I'm still having a hard time figuring out who's singing what. On the originals I can be reasonably sure that the songwriter is singing lead, but that's only because I've got the liner notes in front of me. The original compositions, mostly by Pitney, are truly admirable insofar as they fit seamlessly around the covered material. They're great bluegrass songs; "Goodbye So Long" and "Lee & Paige" are standouts, but they sound so much like their forebears that I sometimes wonder if the words come from the writer's experience or their love of the form. In the end, I guess it doesn't matter. It could just be the cynical indie rocker inside me talking. Broke is an enjoyable first album from a talented band with plenty of room, and time, to grow.

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.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

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.

Film

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.

Music

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.

Television

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.

Music

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
Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Music

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.

Books

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.

Music

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'."

Music

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.

Film

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.

Film

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.

Music

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.

Music

'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.


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.