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The Wilders

Someone's Got to Pay – 2008 (Free Dirt)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by The Wilders

Murder ballads have carved the darkest corners of country music storytelling, but thanks to gonzo bluegrassers the Wilders, their full-fledged murder album has taken the quirky genre to a new level. Based on Wilders' multi-instrumentalist Phil Wade's experience as a juror on a 2005 murder trial, this is a riveting, intense 20-song tribunal laced with classic country, introspective ballads, fiery instrumentals and kick-ass bluegrass.

More than a concept album, this is a compelling narrative held in place by the five stages of "Sittin' on a Jury." Yet it's the Wilders' fevered playing and singing that breathes the emotion into each cut. Lead singer Ike Sheldon is part Ronnie Dunn and David Allen Coe with a little Webb Pierce to boot, and the quartet plays every note as if their lives hang in the balance.

"My Final Plea," shuffles straight out a sweaty '50s Tennessee honky tonk while the band powers through "Sorry I Let You Down" like an acoustic freight train. And the album concludes with a jangly, Beatles-esque "Goodbye (I've Seen It All)." The quirky ending works. The Wilders have taken the tragic tale of a man killing his ex-wife and spun it into one hell of an amazing record.