“The Gavel” by Wilson Banjo Co.

Steve Wilson’s reputation as a bandleader, luthier, producer, engineer, and songwriter places him in the forefront of modern Americana and bluegrass. He’s enjoyed a three-decade run playing the music he loves and has released two fine collections in recent years under the Wilson Banjo Co. banner entitled Spirits in the Hills and Six Degrees of Separation. He has an outstanding interpreter for his material in vocalist Sarah Logan and the duo’s latest single release under the auspices of Pinecastle Records, “The Gavel”, may be the pair’s most fully realized release yet.

URL: https://wilsonbanjo.com/

The lyrical content is superb. “The Gavel” embraces performed poetry in a way recalling the best work of The Stanley Brothers, among others, and gains added luster married to such luminous musical accompaniment. There’s no wasted motion in the band’s musical structure, and their lyrics share the same sense of well-honed economy. Several especially well-turned phrases are laden throughout the lyric, and its theme of worldly judgment rings out with a timelessness we seldom hear from modern songwriting.

Sarah Logan’s voice is a superlative vehicle for such musings. She inhabits a soulful higher register without a hint of wavering and tailors her voice to Wilson’s musical accompaniment. Logan’s vocals are ideal for this sort of material. She has great phrasing skills that are subtle, yet affecting, and the spin she gives to several key lines is important to the final product. There’s a knowing arc of the eyebrow in some particular lines, a hint of deeper wisdom she implies, and never belabors. It’s a masterful performance.

You can’t praise the taste and artistry of the arrangement too much. The bulk of the supporting music during the verses relies on guitar, banjo, and slide guitar. It opens wider during the chorus by incorporating low-key yet effective percussion. The Wilson Banjo Co. never unleashes any sonic storm on listeners, even the full band passages are relatively spartan, but “The Gavel” nevertheless generates an impressive amount of energy despite its low-watt setting.

Atmospherics are crucial. They never achieve them through chicanery or post-production gimmickry. Instead, it’s the seamless interweaving of the song’s instrumental attack that helps them reach this end. Wilson’s production acumen plays a pivotal role in refining the band’s musical magic for audio consumption without any unnecessary or tacky gloss undermining the recording.

“The Gavel” synthesizes strands of country, blues, and bluegrass into a unified whole and embodies the best in modern Americana music. However, Wilson Banjo Co. aren’t staid purists, and they’ve succeeded in recording a track (co-written by recent runner-up on The Voice, Jordan Rainer, alongside Lance Carpenter) that has as much relevance to modern life as anything you might hear on the radio. Does it embrace the flavor of the moment? No. Songs and performances such as this never date. They speak to timeless human emotions and experiences without ever striking a single self-conscious note in the process. “The Gavel” is cut from the heart and represents the best work this formidable tandem has yet to offer. Let’s hope there’s more to come in the near future.

Chadwick Easton


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