I find a hell of a lot in Randall Wilkerson that I find in Bruce "Utah" Phillips: vast social concern, black and grey visions, searing indictments often in deceptively ground level observations, and a love for a populist approach to musicmaking. The core sextet ensemble is augmented by a number of sessioneers colluding to make a sound as deeply lamentive as the group's appellation indicates: dark. Add Guthrie and Seeger to the list of references too 'cause Wilkerson's no-nonsense about his socialistic tendencies, though he refrains from putting them in quite that domain specifically.
However, as versus Utah Phillips, Wilkerson and the boys loves them a good rock oriented progression as well as a jam or two, and boy howdy! Listen to Dave Patterson's great electric lines in Nothin' but Lies, especially the raga tinged solo amidst a cookin' groove that the old San Francisco psychsters (Garcia, Cipollina, Hopkins, etc.) would've killed for, and you'll see pree-cise-ly what I mean, JimBob. That track's followed by the Dylanesque Only Love, reminiscent of when Bob recruited The Band, a quiet ode to the bonds love creates and very nicely offset by Wilkerson's raw-ish voice. Chris Vorhees shows his indispensible part in the band here and elsewhere, in his acoustic leads, Tom Bates backing him up on mando and dobro.
Real Monsters Look Like Men is a down-home CD by an ensemble much deserving of a set of really experienced production hands. The end product is a fine job, but Monsters needs a top shelf pro in every aspect of its complete engineering line-up in order to polish up the band's sound and fineries to a spit-shine. Ya just can't leave everything to the last guy, the gent who masters the whole schmear, 'cause it ain't fair. He can only work with what he receives. and thereby do his best. The real flaw appears to me to be in the primary recording. I have absolutely no quarrels with any aspect of this great disc, but when I hear Billy Went Fishin', a track dripping with sophistication and layers, I just hafta hunger for a bit more of the major label treatment. It's a cut worthy of inclusion in a movie soundtrack, and attention to every atom of imagery and soundfield staging could only make it a monster. And, really, that's the sum total of my criticisms: get these guys in a top flight studio and you'll have a CD to stand alongside Pinecastle, Rural, Rounder, and all the truly great labels that make your mouth water just in the technical aspects. Then there's the killer content, and Wilkerson wrote every damn one of these gems.
Ya might wanna also notice that, in the myriad names of the monsters he's lyrically referring to, a Hell's Hall O' Fame inscribed in circles on the disc itself, he includes Cheney, Bush, Alberto Gonzales, and other real-life bastards along with the whimsical (Dr. Octopus, the Flying Glove & the Blue Meanies, etc.) and a name or two a few Lefties probably will object to (Lenin and Hoffa), but if you know your true history, you'll know why they're there.
I likes me a freethinker, I does.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles