Wildfire’s mix of occasional Robert Hale-written originals with inventive covers of classic country and bluegrass material. The longstanding bluegrass outfit, however, makes its selections outside of the box for their new album Quiet Country Town – songs such as Rodney Crowell’s “She’s Crazy for Leaving”, Elvis Presley’s “Help Me”, and Mel Tillis’ “Ain’t No California” are outside the usual purview of those artists’ best-known material.
An example of that hits with the first track. Legendary country vocal group Alabama doesn’t seem like a prime candidate for bluegrass treatment, but their song “Ride the Train” is an excellent choice for album opener. The lyrics, especially, are image-laden and leap to brilliant life with Hale singing. The collection’s title song is an elegiac winner that looks back on lost love with a longing that is not bitter but certainly tinged with regret. Wildfire captures the genre’s melancholy without ever letting the songs slide into outright despair.
The cover of Vern Gosdin’s “What Would Your Memories Do?” is the sort of thing you should play for people skeptical of country music’s potential for beauty and emotional power. Another of the album’s first-rate covers is Wildfire’s rendition of the Mel Tillis classic “Ain’t No California”. Twenty two years as a band and recording outfit means this band is not merely working through their paces but, instead, has long since internalized this music. It comes across as natural as blinking. This performance epitomizes that and sets a memorable mood that few of the other tracks equal or surpass.
Don Gibson’s “Oh, Lonesome Me” is arguably the best known of the album’s cover songs. Wildfire, however, does not let that create problems for them as they breeze through the arrangement with playful self-assurance. Many listeners will agree that the original version plays into some natural bluegrass musical predictions so transforming the romping honkytonk of the original into the banjo-powered confection we have here is not that much of a stretch.
“Bridges and Walls” mines its source material from a different place. Moving from Don Gibson to the Oak Ridge Boys is a bigger stylistic leap than you might imagine, but the transition of their respective songs into full-throated bluegrass arrangements comes off without a hitch. The cover of Rodney Crowell’s under the radar classic “She’s Crazy for Leaving” strikes a light hearted note while retaining understated pathos, just like the original, but Wildfire gets there on its own terms.
Elvis Presley’s “Help Me” is undoubtedly the best choice for the album’s curtain. It has a hushed and humble approach in keeping with its overall artistry. Taking the song in a different direction than Presley escapes many of the inevitable comparisons people will make and, besides, comparisons are not what you should be after. Wildfire reinterprets a timeless song for their audience, a modern audience, without shirking the moment and they carve out their own piece of the track. It brings Quiet Country Town to a satisfying conclusion and deserves consideration as one of the band’s best albums.