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John Wheeler “Un-American Gothic” February 4th on Cooking Vinyl | FESTIVALPHOTO

John Wheeler “Un-American Gothic” February 4th on Cooking Vinyl

“Un-American Gothic” is John Wheeler’s first solo record, written entirely on the road during 2011. Best known for the past decade as the creator and frontman of the successful Rockgrass act, Hayseed Dixie, the band had spent nearly 9 months on the road and every mile of that tour John traveled, himself, on motorbike. Prior to the tour the band had mutually decided that after over 1,000 live shows together they all really wanted – and in some ways really needed – to take a couple of years off from Hayseed and do some different things. For John this was an important opportunity to, in his words, not to have to “just write songs about drinking, cheating, killing and hell for my character, Barley Scotch, to sing anymore – and then having to think, well, what do I want to write about then?”

That question didn’t remain a question for long. John wrote “Wondering Why I Ever Go Home” and “Doomsday Dance” a few days later and those 2 songs set the initial model for the record: John would write whatever came out without thinking about it too much, he would just write from his own point of view and his own view rather than from the perspective of a character. And that’s what the album is about: a collection of songs from a 42-year-old man, who finds himself surprised to suddenly be, just that, a 42-year-old man. Not any old 42-year-old man though, but instead one who has spent most of his adult life riding a motorbike from place to place, playing music in a different city every night and spending his evenings talking everything from rock n roll to the local economy. The latter might just be John’s preferred topic of the two, too – there always was more to ol’ Barley Scotch than met the eye, and this album is full to the brim with the proof of it.

“Un-American Gothic” itself is meant to be an ironic title, in that John is now an ex-pat Amercian living in Cambridge, married to an English wife, bringing up two children – ultimately, the name has become a commentary on how being physically displaced makes a person question their own identity on the deepest levels.

The album itself is eclectic and original, like Hayseed Dixie’s critically refreshing seventh album No Covers (for which Wheeler was chief songwriter), but with extra personality, intelligence, insight and, of course, all the charm and humour that flung Hayseed into such credible popularity. From first single, “Deeper In Debt”, inspired by a conversation with Fairport Convention’s Dave Pegg about the banking crisis, to the ode to home life “Little Houses in a Row”, to John’s bruised cover of “Eton Rifles”, performed, in disbelief, as a result of hearing that it was David Cameron’s favourite song, there is a lot to be admired here.

A brave step into his own territory and a chance to write on his own terms, this is a record that will unite Hayseed fans of old, but might just open John’s music up a whole new audience too – “Un-American Gothic” is the sound of John Wheeler taking a big, creative sigh of relief.

Skribent: Anthony May
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