Wilson Banjo Co.’s New Album “Memory Lane” 

Wilson Banjo Co.’s new album Memory Lane continues in the tradition established on prior releases such as Spirits in the Hills and Six Degrees of Separation without retreading familiar ground. Those who claim that bluegrass is a narrow style with little flexibility would do well to acquaint themselves with Steve Wilson’s songwriting and playing. He assembles a first-class crew of like-minded collaborations for this collection. However, the crowning touch for the songs comes courtesy of lead singer Sarah Logan. Her varied presence imbues each of the album’s ten songs with an added sense of character that propels them over the top.

“Sadie Danced a Hole in Her Stocking” shows her talents in full bloom. She gives an intimate treatment to this lyric about small-town life as if it’s culled from her autobiography. The Maine-born singer shows a natural aptitude for the bluegrass idiom throughout this tune, and others suggest she was born in the South and she doesn’t have to struggle for a convincing portrayal. The musicianship throughout this opener and its follow-up, “Tomorrow’s Coming Fast” is superb. “Sadie Danced a Hole in Her Stocking” affords us brief glimpses of the virtuosic skills driving Wilson Banjo Co., while the second track provides a far more straightforward but nonetheless believable depiction of those same talents. Logan doesn’t take on the lead vocals for “Tomorrow’s Coming Fast”, but the singing is top-notch.

“Holler” is the nuanced second single from the album. It’s another track with a strong sense of setting pervading its lyrics, and Logan’s phrasing brings those words to life with confident delicacy. The fiddle plays a crucial role in shaping this track’s mood without ever casting an omnipresent sound over the track. “Nightbird” opens with a brief banjo flourish and eventually settles into a patient mid-tempo pace that defines the song’s texture. It’s up among Logan’s best performances thus far as she takes great care with her vocal phrasing. The song’s steady backbeat has a profoundly positive effect on the tune.

“The Gavel” has words layered with such significant detail that it demands multiple listens to take in everything they’re attempting with this track. Wilson Banjo Co. is performing and recording deceptively direct tunes; there’s an underlying ambition behind some of these songs, and “The Gavel” is one. The lead-off single for Memory Lane is a memorable example of modern bluegrass that won’t soon vanish from your consciousness. The drumming during “Memphis Anymore” adds impetus to a song that melds pop and bluegrass elements into an irresistible package. Logan delivers another impressive vocal performance that nicely caps the song off.

“Come to Me” ends the album with a moment of deep, real feeling. It’s a testament to their talents as a musical collective that Wilson Banjo Co. can move from the striding strengths of a song like the aforementioned “Memphis Anymore” into the near-lyrical reflections of the album’s finale. Memory Lane has a lot to offer. It’s a varied and impassioned release that touches on the hallmarks that make bluegrass an abiding vehicle while living in the present and looking toward the future.

Claire Uebelacker

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