Review – The Wynntown Marshals – Big Ideas

Music can take you to many places, in reality and in your mind. My musical journey has led me to discover many new artists and fall in love with styles of music that I just never would have thought would have appealed to me.

Take The Wynntown Marshals, this highly accomplished Scottish Americana band, proclaimed ‘Europe’s best Americana band’ following the release of their debut full-length album ‘Westerner’ in 2010 and lauded by such music business luminaries as BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris, only showed up on my radar due to legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz and the fact that The Marshals’ guitarist, the highly talented Iain Sloan, was a member of the Ganz’s live band at the time I was reviewing their self-titled 2014 release.

There’s no such thing as a coincidence, they say, and I became firm friends with Iain who then introduced me to The Wynntown Marshals and the rest is history. The band were due to release their third album, ‘The End Of The Golden Age’, in 2015 (which I duly reviewed) and I’ve been a big fan ever since!

Work on the band’s long awaited fourth album, ‘Big Ideas’,originally started in 2018. The intervening years saw a line-up change and the confines of the global pandemic inevitably slowed progress, but the resulting album is arguably the highlight of the band’s 15-year career. Engineered and recorded with long-time collaborator Andrew Taylor of Dropkick, mixed by Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studios and mastered by Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound, the record is sonically a step above previous releases, and the mix allows the lush, vibrant instrumentation to take centre stage, providing the ideal backdrop to the recurring lyrical themes of nostalgia, love and loss.

That’s what the PR says and I have been lucky enough to have spent the last three or four weeks delving into this latest gem from The Marshals so here is my take on what these talented lads have delivered.

The driving, strident piano opening of first track, the rockingly joyful New Millennium, sets the tone for the rest of the album, it’s an unapologetic, in your face song with an underlying joyfulness that is just highly infectious. The jangling guitars of title track Big Ideas herald a more serious song about the pitfalls of society’s relationship with, and reliance on, social media. The tone gives a feel of The Smiths but without Morrissey’s hang ups! It’s a handsome piece of music and Keith’s vocals give it the necessary gravitas and conviction.

The mood quietens with the next two tracks, the laid back and wistful Tourist In My Hometown is an utter delight, this nostalgic and thoughtful piece of music wraps you in its many charms, the beautiful keyboards are a particular delight and Keith’s vocals once again shine. The mournful strains of Iain’s pedal steel guitar open the heartbreaking The Pocket, an emotive story song inspired by the historic battle for Stalingrad. This track just bleeds emotion in every note and word. Plaintive and contemplative, its is a melancholy wonder.

The tempo rises and the mood is lifted by the faster paced Learn To Lose, a reflective country rock track that the legendary Tom Petty would have been proud to have written. The lyrics are perfect and give a feel of longing, regret and a yearning for the past and the music is just top drawer, the instrumental break in the middle is just genius! The Missing Me has a hypnotic feel to it, the music mesmerising and soothing and Keith’s vocal is spellbinding. There’s a touch of Chris Isaak to this song, Iain’s guitar adding even more of a haunting, mysterious edge to proceedings, a definite highlight so far.

Almost a perfect piece of music, time seems to slow when the opening bars of Keys Found In Snow kick in. The seemingly whimsical lyrics of this poignant and touching song unfurl into a tale of a relationship in freefall, it is heart-wrenchingly sad and yet exquisite at the same time. The interplay between the pedal steel and piano is utterly bewitching and absorbing and adds another layer of class to what is already a superb piece of music. A soaring hammond organ and plaintive harmonica are key ingredients of the somber Disappointment, a song with a harder edge underneath the great music, a well written country rock tale of life in middle America.

Treat Me Right is a country song through and through, Keith’s heartfelt vocals and the elegant music a backdrop to an oft written story of love and relationships, the laid back guitar solo is sublime and puts a smile on my face. The album closes with the more folk infused delights of ‘Full Moon, Fallow Heart’ which, while downbeat in its delivery, is still unrelentingly positive in its widescreen outlook. A graceful piano and Keith’s wishful, musing vocals finish the song, and the album, with a hopeful lilt.

There’s a joy in hearing a band at the height of their creative powers and The Wynntown Marshals have returned with an album full of superb songs that connect with you on every level. We can all relate to the stories told within this album and appreciate the emotive highs and lows that are felt throughout its ten brilliant tracks. ‘Big Ideas’ reaches beyond just being an amazing Americana record, its is an outstanding achievement in every way!

Released 2nd September, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Big Ideas | The Wynntown Marshals (bandcamp.com)

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