Review From the Archive: John Wheeler – Un-American Gothic

This album is the first full-length solo effort from Hayseed Dixie frontman John Wheeler – and it certainly manages to keep up with the legacy of offbeat, folky tunes. Written whilst on tour with the band in 2011, Wheeler travelled to every show in solitude on his motorbike, making for a soulful and varied album.
The opening song, ‘Down at the Exit’, is an upbeat, acoustic introduction to the laid-back uniqueness of Wheelers voice. The track definitely wants to show that you don’t have to be a folk fan – or even a Dixie fan – to appreciate this album.
Wheeler also takes an intriguing turn with a cover of The Jam’s 1979 protest song ‘Eton Rifles’. Adding his own sense of nostalgia to the famous track with his bare boned vocals, we are given a John Wheeler- style reimagining of a classic. The calming feel to the song gives an exposed atmosphere alongside the aggressive lyrics, creating an intense ambience to the song. However this is followed by a change in direction with the German-led lyrics ‘Kuss Mich Noch Einma’ – roughly meaning ‘kiss me once more’, which culminates in a rhythmic and desperate plea. Whilst it might be thought of as strange to have a song with partially German lyrics, this is a follow up to Hayseed Dixie’s 2011 album – full of Norwegian covers. The constant change of pace with the tracks can be rather disorientating as they seemingly head in all sorts of artistic directions; yet Wheeler’s commitment to the quality of the songs and their tales make for a sort of enchanting fluidity on the album.
The distinct, charming sound to the album is continued with ‘Like I Want You’, a romantic, old-fashioned familiarity that is juxtaposed with a unique vocal accompaniment. Finally, the last track, ‘Walk between the Raindrops’, is a sprightly finale with an air of head-bopping positivity that would not be misplaced on a Toy Story soundtrack. The stripped back quality to the themes of the album , that of freedom and escape, alongside that of searching for a familiar home, serve to save the album as a whole from succumbing to its unique and confusing variety.

Rachel McKinnie

4/5

For fans of: Hayseed Dixie

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