The WildRoots – The WildRoots Sessions Volume 1
WildRoots Records, LLC – 2021
16 Tracks; 64 minutes
This album requires a bit of historical background to fully understand. Victor Wainwright and Stephen Dees began their musical partnership back in 2005, when Dees co-wrote and produced Wainwright’s debut solo release Piana’ From Savannah. They then formed the WildRoots band, fronted by Wainwright. Next, they released several albums, including the 2015 release, Boom Town, which won Blues Blast Magazine’s award for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, and led to Wainwright winning BB King Entertainer of the Year, and Wainwright & the WildRoots being named Band of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. Wainwright and Dees have since started their own record label, similarly named WildRoots Records.
You might think you know what to expect on this album because you’ve seen Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots perform in the past. But the first thing you will notice about this album is that there is quite a bit going on. In addition to Wainwright, Dees, and Patricia Ann Dees (considered the “core” members of the band), eight WildRoots alumni play on the album, eight additional lead vocalists are spotlighted, and seven guest musicians are also featured, including Pat Harrington (from Wainwright’s band, The Train), Lucky Peterson and Michael Shrieve. There is also a variety of song styles, including soul, blues, gospel, and roots Rock ‘n’ Roll. The second thing you will likely notice about this album is the excellent sound mix, with each song consistently sounding clear and crisp, even when played on low-budget laptop speakers.
The album begins with Wainwright and Patricia Ann Dees singing a duet version of the song that Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper wrote for Wilson Pickett, “634-5789”. Even in this light and catchy cover song, the stunning tone and interesting character of Wainwright’s voice is evident. Aside from this and one other cover song, the remaining 14 tracks were written or co-written by Dees, who seems equally comfortable penning songs in any genre. Not surprisingly, the recent political climate appears to have inspired two powerfully written songs for this album. Guest singer Billy Livesay delivers Dees’ song “Something in the Water,” noting “A man’s going crazy up on the hill…tainted news, toxic lies. When right is wrong and wrong is right…must be something in the water.” Additionally, Dees and Wainwright collaborated to write “Where I am,” in which their plea for unity states, “I know what I believe and I’m here to say, hate and evil get out of my way…I’ll respect your views, you respect mine. Treat each other with kindness. Let everybody shine.” This latter message is delivered by the wonderfully gravelly voice of Anthony “Pakrat” Thompson.
Guest artist, John Oates (formerly of Hall and Oates fame), has turned his focus lately to the blues, and his voice sounds better than ever on the slow blues song, “Our Last Goodbye”. This song also features one of the many perfectly placed saxophone solos on this album, performed by three different sax players, Ray Guiser, Charlie DeChant and Patricia Ann Dees.
With such a wide variety of collaborations among so many amazing musicians, it is difficult to focus on only a few tracks for the limited space of a record review, as that will ultimately lead to many notable performances appearing to have been overlooked. But, if I had to pick favorites from this outstanding collection, I would pick the stirring and beautiful gospel duet written by Dees and performed by Wainwright and Beth McKee, “Cradled in the Bosom of Jerusalem,” and the Dees/Wainwright song performed by Wainwright, “I’m Yours,” which ends the album. Ever since hearing Wainwright perform “Same Old Blues,” I have been hoping he would write an original song in a similar style which highlights the power, texture, and range of his voice. I believe “I’m Yours” is just such a song and will be the new song that fans will soon be requesting at his shows.
With such an impressive collection of talent, it is not surprising that there are few, if any flaws to be detected.
In summary, this album celebrates a long history of collaborations among numerous remarkable musicians. With excellent songwriting, stellar performances, and wide-ranging styles, it is an album easily recommended for everyone. It is likely to leave us all eagerly anticipating the release of Volume Two.