Sample and purchase the album here.
WheelHouse took three times as long to record Meanwhile Back at the Ranch as they did their previous recording, Family Band. The latter, released in 2014, was recorded in a hundred-year-old barn in one day while the former was recorded in three days at the historic Beaver Dam Community Theater. To say that WheelHouse are interested in getting back to musical roots would be an understatement.
There once was a snappy Midwestern rock band out of Madison called the Mighty Short Bus. It was hard-working group with a southern-rock edge and a substantial fan base. Frank Busch and Nik Adamany, two guitarists, singers and songwriters led the group through what was quite a good run. Sometime in 2013 the group made a big change. The Lucas Cates Band had recently splintered and two of its members, bassist Mark Noxon and violinist/guitarist Kenny Leiser joined up with Busch and Adamany and WheelHouse was born.
WheelHouse plays a fast-paced brand of bluegrass music; old-timey stuff you’d expect at a hootenanny but laced with stellar soloing, usually at breakneck speed, and perfectly blended multiple vocal harmonies. About an entire route away from the Mighty Short Bus. How did this go over with the fans? Gangbusters. WheelHouse enjoys as much popularity as their previous band(s) and tours vigorously, playing well over a hundred shows a year and possibly much more than that. They also hold down a steady and quite popular Happy Hour gig at the Come Back Inn where they are frequently on the outdoor stage. The band also cleverly markets its own WheelHouse Whiskey, ingeniously promoting two things that go remarkably well together.
While vocals were recorded later, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch’s instrumental tracks were recorded live during their three-day stand in Beaver Dam. WheelHouse are interested in capturing the magic in a bottle, which they certainly have. The performances are remarkably tight with a natural delivery. When bands are locked in a groove there is more happening than what meets the eye. In fact, scientific research shows that brainwaves in musicians will sych when they are playing together. WheelHouse gladly suffers from this malady. Capturing that energy and magic can be elusive as live albums over the course of recorded music history have shown. Somehow, overdubbing and over-producing the crap out of their performances doesn’t seem like it would enter WheelHouse’s collective mind. So what you hear onstage is what you’ll get on a WheelHouse recording, an admirable trait.
Adamany’s guitar on “Ol #7,” the album’s opening track is a high point, picking away at breakneck speed. He does his best Elvis Costello impersonation on “Dreams,” a bit of relief from the cowpokey stuff. Leiser’s violin is all over the recording, playing with intensity and authority. His composition “Somebody New” has all the hallmarks of the country classics: thinkin’ about (quittin’) drinkin’, a lost love, and a lonesome fiddle. “Come Back In (Dive Bar Anthem)” is just what you think it is; a theme song for the Wilson St. establishment where the band holds court every Tuesday. The album closes with a live track, “Hole in Shoes Blues,” easily the album’s best and which showcases the group’s vocal harmonies while demonstrating how their songs get charged up in live performance. Leiser and Adamany trade a couple of hot solos, the delay on the violin especially cool. The track, and the album, reinforce the notion that music is a shared experience, an elusive magic and a story that always has two sides.