Album Review: The Wheelwrights – A Forest in Trees – Harmonic folk that’s good for your soul

One of the best things about editing a music website is that at the end of the day you can cover whatever you want. That was my decision on the Wheelwrights. After I fell in love with their harmonic folk compositions, I needed to hear more of their incredible music. As I’ve done that, I decided that the rest of the world needed to hear more about them.

The secret to the Wheelwrights sound, I’ve discovered, is in these layered harmonies that feel as choral as they do traditional. That is to say, rather than typical bluegrass harmonies that are common in folk music, this is a sound that feels like what you’d hear at St Patrick’s Cathedral, more than down at the honky tonk. The opening track “Ashes” gives a wonderful account of that.

The following track “Anti Meridium” is a bit more of a traditional folk song. The theme of the lyrics is, of course, about love. But the harmonies steal the show again on this one. You have to love the pickin’ on “Travelin’ On.” The female lead here is particularly strong. It stays on point and provides a solid backbone to the harmonies, too. It’s the first really good song on the album.

“Shifts” has some unconventional chord progressions, making for a different sound than typical folk music. That said, the experimentation does make the track stand out. The following “Broken Locks” feels more like a traditional country music, allowing for a Kitty Wells-like lead vocal. You won’t make it through the song without tapping your foot, crying, or both.

The cautiously explicit “New Orleans” embodies its namesake city quite well. If you’ve ever stumbled down the French Quarter, you know there’s no such thing as a style that doesn’t fit that eclectic American treasure. The jangly style of the song combined by some really delicious piano work makes for a hit in my book.
Nothing follows an explicit song about New Orleans quite like a gospel-rooted tune like “Stone in the River.” The vocal harmonies on this one are much more traditional than some of the others, which makes my soul smile.

“Burro Shoe” is an intriguing song more along the lines of the unconventional tracks from bands like Nickel Creek or the Punch Brothers. What it lacks in standard melody, it makes up in more of those characteristic Wheelwrights harmonies. The banjo on “My Momma’s Ring” is worth the price of admission. Again the classic country jangle wins the day on this one. I would honestly love to hear a full album with that style.

The final track “Dust” is the song that brought us to the Wheelwrights and it is definitely one of their best songs. The lyrics and overall production seem to be at another level compared with the rest of the album. The lead vocal has a different quality than others on the album, but it should definitely be featured more prominently. The songwriting is sophisticated, creating a need for multiple listens and a bit more of a meditative approach. I dig it.

All told, this is a really enjoyable album. Maybe we should call this Americana as it covers so many styles. I hear country, Americana, blues, and gospel on it for sure. There even seem to be some hints of jazz in some of the songs. But the core element is the vocal harmony between three people who seem to genuinely love music; that really puts the Wheelwrights in a “ones to watch” category.

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