Album Review: Wild Ponies – Galax (Gearbox)

Down on the farm

Wild Ponies are Telisha and Doug Williams, a musical and nuptial partnership based in Nashville whose roots go back to the old time music of south Virginia. The title of this album refers to a town in that part of the world where Doug’s grandparents had a farm that he visited in his youth and clearly has fond memories of. So much so that for this project he took four “really, really good” Nashville musicians to make music with three of the apparently many great local old time and bluegrass players whose forebears got him started on the road to country music. According to Jon Lohmann’s liner notes Galax and surrounding areas are a veritable hotbed of traditional music. So on one side this is a case of taking it back home and going for an authentic folk sound, but there’s more to it than that because the combination of professional and amateur musicians gives the band a different kind of edge. It is also a very live, natural and unproduced recording made by drummer Neilson Hubbard in a barn in the backyard of the aforementioned farm. A very different locale to that usually experienced by session musicians and one that seemed to bring out the best in them.

The other key to this album’s appeal is Gearbox Records’ mastering of the vinyl pressing. This studio is based in Kings Cross, London and utilises classic analogue equipment from the golden era of vinyl, the tape machine is a valve powered Studer H37 and the cutting lathe a Haeco Scully with Westrex heads, in other words the same gear that was used to make Kind of Blue, Sgt.Peppers and many more classic albums. In the case of Wild Ponies it means a vibrant, fresh and natural sound that puts you there in the barn with the band, listen close and you can hear crickets in the background.

The musicians on Wild Ponies play upright bass (Telisha), guitar, pedal steel, banjo, fiddle, drums and mandolin, all but the occasional and very subtle bit of Telecaster being acoustic. So the sound they make on the eight originals and two covers included on Galax is perfect for this quality of production. The traditional opener Sally Ann is lively enough to get a barn dance going and its followed by an original with a similar feel. Pretty Bird by Hazel Dickens starts out intimately with just Telisha’s voice and guitar but the rest of the band gradually join the fray with the fiddle sounding particularly sweet. The last song on the side introduces Doug’s gruff tones on Will They Still Know Me, a song about hanging onto the past with the refrain “Maybe I’m the stranger”.

Side two starts out with the lovely down tempo number Hearts And Bones where Telisha sings with restraint over a beautiful pedal steel guitar. The other highlight is Goodnight Partner where husband and wife duet in a lovely song with effortless and intricate backing from a very able band working out a new sound to add to the many colours of contemporary country music. This is a country album for those that don’t like the genre, it strips away the spit and polish to reveal music with an open heart and a rare honesty.

-Jason Kennedy

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