Big Jugs, Actual Wolf, Rancho Deluxe, Mike Hellman
Stringband Fever *Outlaw Country Night*
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Big Jugs is your Grandpa's favorite country band, but don't expect to find the album anywhere around his house. He won't bring it out at Thanksgiving while the family sits down at the bird. And no, you won't find the record in the front room between his Merle and Willie vinyl. Grandma may not even know the album exists. You see, Grandpa hides it out in the barn next to his old ass kickin boots. It's from a time when he used to spit tobacco in the face of danger, drink whiskey till sun was rising and knock the dickens out of any man who wore a sour grin. He even had his own robe down at the local bordello, where he seldom had to pay. And his favorite band was BIG JUGS
The Legend of the Actual Wolf
There are outlaws, and there are outlaws. Some practice the pose and cultivate the image, though seldom dirty their soft, bourgeois hands with anything actually outside the law. When they do, it is often despicable, irresponsible or just plain mundane. The Actual Wolf, however, is a real outlaw and has pled guilty to it. Between the bust and before the trial AW recorded a pair of EPs, each showing ‘another side of the Wolf’. The first is USA, an everyman’s acoustic album that channels both Woody and Zimmerman on a smuggler’s road trip on the cop-laden corridor of the I-80. The second—Lightning & the Wolf— conjures a 30-something’s symphony to Gawd, a rock EP at times so ethereal that it floats like smoke up into the aether, at others so earthy & grounded you can almost feel the parole. This is not music that pleads for forgiveness—the man has given his freedom as a sacrament at the altar of his beliefs. Rather, these are songs of redemption. Actual Wolf has paid a price, but like many deals with devils, seems to have come out the greater for it.
Some of you might recall Chapter One of the Actual Wolf story, but the details are timeworn enough to no longer bear repeating. The bullet points, however, remain important: trapped in a tiny town you've long since outgrown, the tedium of days waiting through obligations and hassles, stranded in the doldrums between tours and back-up gigs. Eric Pollard used this time as best he could, and the results speak for themselves.
In Chapter Two, the concept of Actual Wolf has evolved from 'man' to 'band'. Besides Pollard, the effort now includes collaborators Steve Garrington, Jacob Hanson and Jeremy Hanson, and 'Actual Wolf' finds them fully enmeshed and luxuriant in their synergy together. Produced by Alan Sparhawk and mixed by Erik Koskinen, Actual Wolf comfortably demonstrates the timelessness of meticulous studio technique. Layered vocals and rich, tube-driven guitars lend a warm patina not out of place resting in a battered sleeve in a dusty record bin. Complex harmonies soar and shimmer, to hang like restless hawks in the thermals above the rich, earthy loam of Pollard's effortless working class poeticism.
In these songs, angels and devils mingle in neutral territory, and stubborn optimism burns life's accumulated disappointment as fuel. This is the sound of a New Americana: an accretion of influences as rich, dense and multicolored as a bed of living coral. Using ragged and tattered maps drawn by the weary, troubled troubadours of eras past, Actual Wolf navigates the freshly paved highways of the contemporary palette.
Outlaw country band made up of Rancho Cotati High School Alumni...
Mike Hellman is a country music songwriter and performer, mixing roots traditions with originality, conviction and grit.