It’s evident even at the outset that Wood & Wire appreciate the essence and nuances of grassicana, not only in the way they construct their adept arrangements, but also in the sources that serve as their inspiration. While the title alludes to somber surroundings, the energy and exuberance which they apply to their performances suggest total engagement, regardless of circumstance. Likewise, even though the vast majority of the songs in the set are original compositions written by guitarist Tony Kamel in particular, they tap into a tradition that’s as rich as the sprawling Texas environs that inspire a singular sentiment.
The roughhewn reflection is mostly manifest on North Of Despair in the infectious interplay between banjo and mandolin as they drive the delivery of uptempo tunes like Just Don’t Make ‘Em, Eliza and Summertime Rolls, not to mention the jaunty pacing of the title track, and the sprightly pacing that accompanies such standout songs as Lies and Money and album opener Kingpin. It’s music of a vintage variety, but it still manages to sound fresh and vibrant in a contemporary context.
Still, it’s the album’s two solitary ballads, Texas and Awake in the Wake, that provide the most compelling cause to ruminate and reflect. Each digs deep into the topsoil of dust-blown prairies and plains, hostile surroundings that once challenged the settlers who tamed the wilderness, while heeding harsh circumstances. One almost wishes that Wood & Wire had chosen to settle in the shadows a bit longer, but the upbeat ambiance that settles over the set as a whole provides a lure all its own.
Ultimately, Wood & Wire deserve credit for delivering a sound and style borne of arcane influences, but which is never fully defined by music of a vintage variety. Like various other contemporaries — the Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain, Mountain Heart, and the Infamous Stringdusters, among them — they aren’t afraid to inject personality and ernest embellishment in their MO. It allows for a personality and posture that’s fully obvious in the uncontained revelry of their most uptempo tunes. As the title of one track in particular declares, this is indeed As Good As It Gets.