The Worthless Son-in-Laws: ‘No. 8 Wire’
If you’ve seen and heard one of the numerous concerts given by High Country band The Worthless Son-in-Laws over the past decade, you know that they can deliver the goods when it comes to presenting cover tunes by the likes of Gram Parsons or The Rolling Stones.
What you might not know, however, is that their original material is just as strong as their covers.
That’s about to become common knowledge with the release of the band’s latest album, “No. 8 Wire.”
Recorded at the Fidelitorium in Kernersville, the album was produced by the band and legendary musician and producer Mitch Easter.
“I’m excited about this record,” said Jimmy Davidson, singer and songwriter for the band. “I feel like it represents us well. We really wanted to do this record right, so we went to a real studio. We also practiced these songs a lot — years, in some cases — so we really knew them by the time we went in to record.”
“No. 8 Wire” features Davidson on vocals, acoustic guitars, piano and sound effects, Rob Brown on electric guitars and vocals, Rich Crepeau on bass guitar and David Brewer on drums, percussion and harmony vocals. Additional musicians on the album are Mitch Easter on electric guitar and Melissa Reaves on violin.
Easter is best known for being the producer and engineer for the first few R.E.M. albums in the early 1980s and for fronting the seminal North Carolina new wave band, Let’s Active.
“He has also recorded many other bands, including Wilco, Game Theory and the Drive-By Truckers, all of which might fit into a list of the Son-in-Laws’ influences,” Davidson said. “He is a musical hero of mine. It was truly an honor and a pleasure to work with him. When I was younger, his band, Let’s Active, was one of my favorite bands. He’s just a phenomenal musician and songwriter, and he’s got a great ear in the studio. And he couldn’t be a nicer guy. They always say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I wasn’t disappointed.
“He’s very easygoing, with a wry sense of humor, and I think that helps turn what could be a high-pressure ‘time-is-money’ type of situation into a really enjoyable experience. So, any stress turns more into excitement. I spent the whole time feeling like, ‘This is where I belong.’”
“No. 8 Wire” marks the Worthless Son-in-Laws’ first studio album in nearly seven years. As a result, many of the tunes on the album were written years ago and have a nice well-worn polish to them.
“I think this record is a good bit different from the last one,” Davidson said. “We’ve got six-plus years’ experience under our belts since the last one, for one thing, so hopefully we’re better musicians, and we’ve been playing these songs a long time. And we’re at the point where we really are a unit — I don’t know how to describe it, but after this long together, we function like a single organism, sort of. I feel really lucky to be playing with such talented and creative musicians.”
The album alternates between slow ballads, such as “New York Times,” and punchy rockers, like “Still Life with Cake.” The balance between the acoustic guitars and piano and electric instruments is flawless, with neither type overpowering the other.
But the real strength of the new album is the songwriting. Davidson penned 10 of the 12 tunes on the album, with Brown writing “Things You Say” and “Waffle Joint.”
Stylistically, the album is reminiscent of many of the stellar country rock albums of the 1970s, especially discs, such as Pure Prairie League’s “Bustin’ Out” and Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers’ “Bongos Over Balham” (obscure, yet essential). Its blend of country, rock, blues and ballads lets the listener explore the various moods of Davidson and his bandmates.
Lyrically, the album explores the timeless themes of love and family, plus some unexpected topics, such as working on ships, snail-mail letters and even mountaintop-removal mining.
“Yeah, that one (‘The Luddite’) was inspired somewhat by reading Edward Abbey’s ‘The Monkeywrench Gang,’” Davidson said. “It’s about what happens when this guy’s family land and house are ruined by a nearby mountaintop-removal mining operation. He kind of goes ballistic, but I think people can sympathize with his situation.”
Davidson spent a year in New Zealand recently and came across the term, “No. 8 wire.” Apparently, the settlers there often didn’t have all the supplies they needed, so the joke was that they could fix everything using No. 8 fencing wire. It is sort of their version of duct tape.
The Worthless Son-in-Laws will be performing at the Jones House in Boone on Friday, Aug. 30, and at the Craft Food and Beverage Festival (formerly High Country Beer Fest) on the Appalachian State University campus Saturday, Aug. 31. For more information on the Worthless Son-in-Laws, visit http://www.soninlaws.com.