Posted on: April 4, 2024 Posted by: Kim Muncie Comments: 0

Memory Lane is the third full-length release from Steve Wilson’s skilled bluegrass project Wilson Banjo Co. Wilson has built a reputation as one of the genre’s most formidable talents as a bandleader, producer, songwriter, and engineer for numerous recordings. He’s played alongside top-tier talents such as Deeper Shade of Blue, Dale Ann Bradley, Kim Robins, and Jesse Brock, among others. Wilson Banjo Co. enjoys two critically acclaimed prior releases titled Spirits in the Hills and Six Degrees of Separation. However, the new collection Memory Lane makes a sturdy case for being his best effort yet. 

Vocalist Sarah Logan’s skilled and thoughtful presence on the first song “Sadie Danced a Hole in Her Stocking” complements the band’s instrumental interplay. The rising and fall of her voice through the song’s narrative helps give it a sense of character it might otherwise lack in the hands of a lesser singer. Wilson builds the track so that each component gets at least a brief turn in the spotlight. It revolves around time-tested fare such as banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin without ever risking cliché. 

“Tomorrow’s Coming Fast” is one of the album’s best tracks. Logan takes a backseat as a singer here, but Wilson ably steps up to the fore and supplies convincing lead vocals. It’s a tune that anyone over thirty can relate to as we strive to cram more and more life into the restrictive hours of each passing day. The chorus provides a gripping payoff moment for the songwriting as a whole. “Holler” boasts an inventive bluegrass arrangement that would adapt well to a rock music format. It’s dramatic and driven by understated dynamics in this low-volume setting without ever lacking power. Logan’s singing invests it with additional dramatic power that solidifies it in the listener’s memories. 

Kicking off with an evocative introduction, “Nightbird” soon settles into an atmospheric amble where no instrument sounds out of place. The instrumentation invokes memories of the theme song for HBO’s late lamented series Deadwood, and that rustic overtone sustains much of the track. Logan’s vocals give tremendous life to the song’s poetry without ever sounding overwrought. The album’s first single “The Gavel” rightly attracted a lot of attention to this release thanks to one of Logan’s best vocals as she digs deep into her skillset to help realize this song’s potential. Wilson’s sterling banjo picking provides just the perfect accompaniment for her voice. 

It’s interesting, if not gripping, to hear pop song motifs emerging through a bluegrass context. “Memphis Anymore” is one of the album’s most appealing numbers because it straddles the border between purist Americana and pop in a convincing way. The graceful finale “Come to Me” plucks the heartstrings for several reasons, and its spot-on vocal harmonies are potent. This parting track aches with yearning as few of its predecessors do. 

Wilson Banjo Co.’s Memory Lane never treats bluegrass and Americana like a butterfly pinned under glass. Instead, the genre is a living and breathing vehicle for conveying what it means to be human, and its timeless stories and themes never miss the mark. 

Kim Muncie

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