WRINKLE NECK MULES – APPRENTICE TO GHOSTS
2012 – Blue Rose Records
The Wrinkle Neck Mules are an unusual band in as much as they cater incredibly well for several different tastes in roots music, with the Andy Stepanian penned and sung songs being more strongly ‘southern rock,’ that does
often include a country feel and instrumentation, whilst those written and sung
by Chase Heard are almost the complete opposite with them being predominately
steeped in ‘country’or at least country rock. The beauty of this is that whilst they come at their songs from different directions the album does work
incredibly well, due simply to the fact that not only are both men excellent, if entirely different, vocalists but their harmonies blend perfectly thus linking these well written songs. Andy has a ‘classic southern rock’ voice with his swampy drawl that at times almost seems to have a
‘gargle’ in it whilst Chase is not as raw but has plenty of melodic character, ideally suited to classic ‘country rock.’ Whilst Chase sings lead on five of the twelve songs they alternate throughout most of the album, with Andy taking lead on the final two songs as well. Your song preference depends very much on where your overriding taste lies, whether it be for southern rock with strong country elements or vice versa. Both are of an equal quality on this excellent album.
The band is comprised of the already mentioned Andy Stepanian on lead and harmony vocals, guitars and mandolin and Chase Heard, also on lead and harmony vocals, guitar and banjo with Mason Brent on harmony vocals, guitar, mandolin and pedal steel, Brian Gregory also harmony vocals and, bass and Stuart Gunter playing drums and backing vocals. They are all excellent musicians as evidenced by the power and togetherness of not only the songs on this album but also on it’s four just as good predecessors. They are not only a Southern Rock band that is as good as any
of their peers but the same can be applied to their mastery of country rock, even sometimes edging towards bluegrass, albeit a rocked up modern version of it! A recent bio of the band described them as ‘a rock skeleton with bluegrass blood and country skin,’which probably sums them up perfectly and without any exaggeration at all!
There seems to be a tremendous amount of metaphor used by both writers but trying to unravel the meaning of these excellent songs keeps the album interesting however many times you listen to it. Many of the songs seem to be about the harshness of life on the land for those who were born to families with very little, a state that follows many through life. There is a murder ballad, a
tale of a runaway but if you want the oft repeated standard tales of love, lost love etc. you are listening to the wrong album, but what you do get is thought provoking ballads and mid tempo rockers that stay in the memory, most having a darkness that very few other artists seem able to match however hard they try.
Lead off track is Andy’s When the wheels touch down, an excellent, slow, moody, almost anthemic ballad with it’s chiming guitars that is a lot more ‘southern rock’ than country,
immediately followed by Chase’s southern country rocker, Stone above your head, that tells
about the hardships of life on the land and despite a ‘busy production’ has a lovely melody and excellent harmonies. The title track Apprentice to Ghosts is a simply beautiful country song with Chase’s evocative vocals and haunting steel guitar making this one of the album highlights. Andy’s Parting of the clouds is another tremendous ‘southern country rocker,’ this time even including an element of bluegrass with it’s chiming banjo and mandolin, with his album closer Dry Your Eyes, being a quite mellow sparse banjo led anthem that despite going on a little too long, is still an excellent song. Chase’s Leaving Chattanooga, is another really good piece of country rock with nice mandolin and banjo and terrific harmonies, that are at times slightly reminiscent of British band
Lindisfarne, this time being a really descriptive song about the journey through life after being a runaway child.
Overall this is an excellent album that perfectly blends many roots music elements into an excellent brew and by a band that seem to sail under the radar but never fail to deliver albums that live long in the