The one most common complaint about bluegrass is that much of it sounds the same. Like blues, punk, surf or any style of music that easily falls within a specific genre, the instrumental accoutrements tend to dictate a sound that makes typecasting sometimes appear all too easy. So, it's refreshing when a band like The Way Down Wanderers comes along and offers up an album that gives a nod towards the form while also possessing enough of an individual identity to actually break the mold.
The Chicago-based quintet has only made tentative steps towards showing off their sound before, so in a way, this eponymous effort is equivalent to a debut. It's an admirable one at that, a collection of songs whose melodies dictate the proceedings as opposed to being bound to any one style specifically.
Yes, there are a few spontaneous jams that blend frenzy and finesse, but mostly the emphasis is on delivering tunes and engaging and compelling tunes at that. Opening track "Dead Birds" sets the tone, all upbeat and effusive, while "Blacktop Highway" may be the best road song since "Willin'." In fact, there's no shortage of memorable melodies included here - "Heading North," "Circles" and "Hollow Man" among them. They offer every indication that The Way Down Wanderers were not only inspired to make a terrific record, but that they're already at the top of their game.
Indeed, the evidence offered by this one album alone makes it clear that this band possesses that certain savvy that ensures they stand apart in a crowded field of nu-grass wannabes. "The Way Down Wanderers" does an impressive job of capturing immediate attention and then refusing to let go.