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The Way Down Wanderers

Illusions – 2019 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by The Way Down Wanderers

The Way Down Wanderers are another band that's breaking the mold with traditional bluegrass, using it as a foundation to meld in an array of genres. "Illusions" is the second album from the Peoria, Ill.-based quintet following a pair of EPs and "Live at the Old Rock House." Like the best of the bluegrass bands though, these youthful musicians have a flair for melody and harmonies.

The band's two chief songwriters and lead singers are Austin Krause-Thompson (guitar and keys) and Collin Krause (mandolin and fiddle). Austin has a rock background ,while the high lonesome crooner Collin is classically trained. Up until now, they've had a penchant to write separately, but this time they worked more collaboratively. They describe the material as "about love, loss and personal evolution." They also build in numerous references to nature in these songs. Jazz percussionist John Merikoski and classical upright bassist John Williams, together with guitarist/banjoist Travis Kowalsky complete the unit.

The Wanderers offer a light, bright sound as epitomized by the only non-original, the opener "Principles of Salt," featuring a banjo solo from Kowalsky, who is the major soloist throughout an album where the band offers mostly a nice ensemble mix of high energy percussion, mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo and fiddle, together with three-part harmonies (Williams sings too). It's rather easy to detect that the band would like to jam. but rein it in to keep these tunes cohesive. The music is uplifting, catchy, and even inspiring;

Close listening reveals some interesting nods to other genres. "All My Words" has a reggae/island beat, a mid-song rap and the rapid banjo solo long associated with bluegrass. The love song "Heartland" has elements of The Band's "Cripple Creek." The harmonies on the title track evoke The Beach Boys. 'She's Alright" has that recognizable Bo Diddley beat. "Patient Pretender," about adopting a stray puppy, has a poppy dance beat. Oh, and those references to nature are all over "Crooked Pines" and "Moonglow Carolina., as they cleverly compare natural beauty to personal evolution.

The Way Down Wanderers put the song first. What follows may be mostly bluegrass, but it's an inclusive approach that leads to some surprising moments. Taking a few risks really pays off.