Photo: Greg Giannukos (Rock Ridge Music)

Whiskey Wolves of the West Take Us Back to the Honky Tonks on ‘Country Roots’

Whiskey Wolves of the West's Country Roots brings listeners back to the piquant honky tonk sounds of the 1950s and '60s while fully embracing laid-back country roots.

Country Roots
Whiskey Wolves of the West
Rock Ridge Music
2 March 2018

“From Mississippi to Alabama, from New York to California, from West Virginia down to Macon, Georgia, sooner or later everybody gonna come around,” sings Whiskey Wolves of the West. Listeners will indeed come around to the band’s debut album Country Roots. Tim Jones and Leroy Powell combine their songwriting and musical talents to create a Nashville-based sound filled with satisfying twangy vocals, tinny strings, and real-life lyrics. Positioning themselves between the country and Americana genres, Country Roots will elate purists while attracting listeners more experienced with alt-country groups. Unburdened by overproduction and commercialism, Country Roots brings listeners back to the piquant sounds of the honky tonks from the 1950s and ’60s while fully embracing laid-back country roots.

Country Roots is a concise project featuring just seven tracks and lasting about 28 minutes. But don’t let the album’s short length fool you into thinking Whiskey Wolves of the West lack fortitude. The album’s duration is clearly an homage to classic country artists who focused their efforts, and their audiences’ ears, on fewer tracks. For example Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line and Waylon Jennings Ramblin’ Man both amount to about 30 minutes. Much as artists before them, Jones and Powell channel their energies into fully developing songs’ narratives and music. The track “Alexandria”, for example, takes listeners into a romantic history shaped by regret. For instance, the lyrics for “This Song Ain’t Gonna Write Itself” are so robust that the song will at once break your heart while getting you up to dance.

The lyrics are deeply poetic and catchy. Each song is episodic while fully demonstrating the broad spectrum of emotionality. For example in “Rainy Day Lovers” the lyrics express an understandable anxiety and depression that comes with everyday life. As Jones and Powell sing, “but I’m stuck here walking the floor / With a job I hate, alimony that’s late / And I’m headed for another divorce.” Whereas “#1 (The Ballad of Dallas Davis)” features an escapist fantasy about leaving behind one’s troubles and “[hitting] the jackpot betting on the ponies”. While the lyrics to “Sound of the South” and “Country Roots” feature a sense of Southern pride that is more genuine than other mainstream appropriations of Southern roots. Jones’ and Powell’s lyrics are so relatable that any listener will find some type of connection, even if they don’t consider themselves fans of country.

Country Roots sonically spans beyond the country genre to find influence from Americana, blues, classic and indie rock. The album also features a wide range of instruments such as guitar, bass, pedal steel, clavinet, harmonica, piano, organ and drums. Throughout the entire album, the vocals and instruments play an interesting call and response. For example in “Sound of the South”, the lyrics call out for steel guitar and listeners hear the accompanying twangy sound of the instrument. A similar back and forth is heard in “Country Roots” where the lyrics say “listen to the banjo play”, and on cue, the music grabs the attention of the listener.

Country Roots is a wholly unique album that at once celebrates classic country while positioning Jones and Powell as a powerhouse duo representational of the Nashville sound. Listeners will want to hear more from Whiskey Wolves of the West. I fully expect this album to raise their credibility and position them among country music’s vanguard.

RATING 7 / 10