Album review: Black Coffee — Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes

Vaguely reminiscent of the classic riff from Lynrd Skynrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, the opening guitar figure of ‘309’ kick starts this terrific album in an unequivocal fashion. Cue in Lachlan Bryan’s gritty vocal followed by a rocking, very, very good band and we could hardly want for a more emphatic start. From there things never back off or fall away for the duration of this ride through a genre-bending adventure that encapsulates what this music we like to call Americana is.

Following his foray into more traditional country territory on his previous release Shadow Of A Gun, Bryan has recalled the core of musicians who played on The Wildes’ first album, Ballad of a Young Married Man, and Bryan says that move was what created the magic for him this time around.

Combine that with a short form recording process (one and a half days of live in studio recording and four days mixing) and what we get is a fine hybrid of the impeccable, yet relatively conservative vibe of the former and the more spontaneous ragged charm of the latter.

A ride on the Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes’ tour bus takes us through a landscape of seedy motels, two lane blacktop highways, roadside diners, dive bars, the desolation of the harsh desert and even a Mexican restaurant breakfast stop.

Moving on from ’309′ the stops are all intriguing, some threatening, others comforting or alternately despairing and yet others celebratory. But nowhere are they dull, predictable or mundane.

‘Big Fish’ reflects on the vagaries of life, love and loss over strummed acoustic guitars and evocative banjo from Rod McCormack.

On ‘You, Me And The Blues’ we roar along with the top down, propelled by classic rock ‘n roll riffing and a stinging solo from Andy Wrigglesworth on electric guitar.

A visit to ‘Deathwish Country’ is an excursion into the realm of the lost, the misfits, the lonely. Yet it’s where tradition rules and should you dare to “wear your workin‘ clothes on Sunday they’ll put the fear of God in you.”

‘Draggin My Chain’ is a rhumba infused visit to Memphis soul country with a verse from the exceptional Zoe Rinkel who is joined by Melody Poole on the gospel-tinged vocal responses. Bryan says that this song “is kind of where I’m at right now though musically” ….  and that is emphatically a good thing.

The title cut captures not only the almost universal need to give our day a chemical boost at some point but is charmingly nostalgic at the same time. In Bryan’s words …. “I’ve been drinking coffee since I was eight years old. I found it counteracted the valium and always kept me focused. My grandfather taught me to drink it black as pitch and hot as hell, and I’ve pretty much lived my life by that philosophy”. Possibly some grounds for concern there for his school teachers, but the stuff of a highly engaging song.

And so the tour goes on. Moving through the contemplations of the lovely ‘Change In The Wind’, a political haymaker on ‘The CEO Must Die’, the sweetly swaying uncertainties of ‘Kiss Me Or Kill Me’, and easing to a halt with an outstanding duet vocal performance from Bryan and Melody Poole on ‘Forty Days And Nights’.

Black Coffee is a very good recording that places Lachlan Bryan And The Wildes firmly in the upper echelon of Australian alternative country music, and potentially much more. This writer was recently at the Americana Music Association Awards & Festival in Nashville, an event that features a slew of far bigger names. Acts enjoying the relatively prominent profile of The Band Of Heathens, The Infamous Stringdusters, Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors and Over The Rhine all put on excellent showcase sets to packed, appreciative houses. There is not a doubt in my mind this outstanding Australian band could stand toe to toe with these bigger names and have a genuine claim to equal billing and peer status.

Lachlan Bryan And The Wildes will officially launch Black Coffee at the Tamworth Festival in January 2014, following up with a national tour.

The band are Lachlan Bryan (guitars, vocals), Mat Duniam (drums), Shaun Ryan (bass) and Andy Wrigglesworth (guitar). Guests on the album are Bill Chambers (guitars), Tommy Detamore (pedal steel), Zoë Rinkel (vocals), Rod McCormack (banjo) and Melody Pool (vocals).