Wrinkle Neck Mules
I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
(Lower 40/Country Wide)
3.5 out of 5 stars
Virginia’s Wrinkle Neck Mules’ deep, traditional Americana country/bluegrass inflected rock isn’t exactly the flavor of the month, and hasn’t been over the course of the band’s decade long existence. Acts like them take breaks where they can and the Mules got a whopper when Geico used the shit-kicking “Central Daylight Time” in TV ads aired during high profile fare such as the World Series and NFL games. That unexpected publicity led to a free digital-only career overview “A Free History Of …” that helped expose their decidedly non-commercial style to a newfound audience. All of which makes this disc, the quintet’s sixth, their most anticipated release.
Those who think they might take this chance at the brass ring to polish up their previous mud-caked, raw approach haven’t delved into the Mules’ existing catalog of gritty, cowhide tough roots music. Singer-songwriters Chase Heard and Andy Stepanian’s lyrics skew to the more melancholy, darker side as evidenced here by “Undertaker’s Song,” “Tropical Depression” and “Days Don’t End,” with whisky stained, heartfelt vocals to match. A few stompers like “Sugar Bowl” and the opening “Whistlers & Sparklers” bump up the groove, yet most of this hour-long platter is devoted to moodier pieces closer to Son Volt territory.
To their credit, the thoughtful arrangements, finely crafted, sometimes oblique lyrics and leisurely tempos mesh perfectly with the downtempo but far from depressing story telling process. That’s particularly evident on “Release The Reins,” the disc’s wonderful six minute centerpiece. It ambles along on an unhurried pedal steel slither, unraveling at its own deliberate pace and is typical of the measured ramble the Mules favor. Just when the vibe gets a bit repetitious, it’s lightened by a swampy, Band-influenced “Heaven’s High.”
This isn’t music that will be the life of parties but rather is what you’ll chill to while picking up empty bottles and cold, leftover pizza, long after the last guest has staggered home.