Album review: Webb Wilder, ‘Mississippi Moderne’ filled with fun surprises

Webb Wilder portraitThrowing blues, roots, psychedelia, rock and the British Invasion into a skillet and frying it in the flavors of Nashville and the Mississippi Delta, “Mississippi Moderne” by Webb Wilder is a nuanced album that happily surprises.

Pronounced “Mo-dern,” the album is far from being a traditional album of Americana and blues, full of creativity and vigor. Wilder was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, deep in the heart of Hill Country and Delta blues, and eventually soaked up the sounds of Austin and Nashville before releasing his 1986 debut album, “It Came From Nashville.” His winding path through cornerstone hubs of music certainly has influenced his style and Wilder seems excited to keep pushing his music to unique places.

The whole album feels like discovering a road in your hometown that you had no idea existed; the surroundings feel familiar, but the path is new enough to keep you excited and wondering. Wilder wants to give you something a little different each time.

The electrifying “Too Much Sugar For a Nickel” is born from the homegrown wisdom of Wilder’s mother about something being too good to be true and strums along with the glowing aura of the Traveling Wilburys. Wilder continues to push the song into an inspired coda that pulses with the surging, melodic, blues-rock of the Black Crowes, an engaging journey from beginning to end.

Continuing to surprise, Wilder isn’t afraid to look across the pond for ways to inject new textures and melodies into traditionally American styles of music. “Yard Dog” hums along with a crunchy, garage-rock rhythm that is accented with the mod-coolness of British Invasion-style keyboards and the band also punches out a fuzzy cover of The Kinks’ “I Gotta Move.” But nothing quite tingles the ears like the addition of electric sitar on “Only a Fool.” It’s a delicate dance Wilder does with grace not to trivialize the song with a novelty instrument, but the sitar adds a whimsical texture that only enhances the tune’s holding-onto-love theme.

But with a title like “Mississippi Moderne,” the blues certainly makes choice appearances across the album and Wilder saves his most tenacious playing for such times. He releases a gnarled solo somewhere between bluesy, surf-guitar and country flat-pickin on the greasy “Rough and Tumble Guy,” which rattles with intensity. The guitarist settles into the heated groove of “It Takes Time” like a grizzled blues veteran, continuing to impress on the following “Lucy Mae Blues” as it wades farther in the sludgy marsh. In a nod to his Mississippi blues roots, Wilder channels legends Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf on the haunting “Stones In My Path,” his voice deep and paranoid.

“Mississippi Moderne” is a forward-thinking album that speaks to Wilder’s varied influences with style and heart. Put it on and it will not disappoint.

Webb Wilder album

  • Webb Wilder
    “Mississippi Moderne”
    Release: Sept. 25, 2015
    Label: Landslide Records
    Notable Tracks: “Too Much Sugar For a Nickel,” “Stones In My Path”

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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