In 2015, Cincinnati band Wilder released its debut EP, a self-titled effort that was strongly rooted in Country music and buoyed by the sturdy songwriting talents of co-frontpeople Kelly Thomas (whose Fabulous Pickups band project had just ended) and Randy Steffen (whose Sleepin’ Dogs had also been recently put out to pasture). That impressive debut showed Wilder to be a band that seemed influenced by a wide spectrum of Country music, from the traditional early sounds of the genre through so-called AltCountry.
In the press bio for the EP, it said that Thomas and Steffen created Wilder to exercise their songwriting muscles and try to “write songs that stand on their own,” regardless of the ornamentation. They’ve stayed true to that principal and drive that point home harder on Wilder’s new album, Pick Your Poison. Steffen, Thomas and bandmates Kevin Hogle (drums), John Schmidt (bass) and Zach Rowe (guitar) lean into their Rock & Roll inspiration a bit more on the album, and the end result is a dynamic and entertaining nine-track collection that finds the group comfortable and confident in its sound and songs.That’s not to say that the new album is all distortion-heavy, cranked-to-11 wall-melters and roof-raisers. Wilder is more artful and intricate than that and there is an endearing rootsiness inherent in all of its music. Pick Your Poison’s title track (and opener) is fueled by a classic and rollicking train drumbeat and the smoking guitar leads are certainly twangy. But when the song’s huge chorus hits, the musicians take it to a different place, untethered by stylistic signifiers.
Elsewhere, the moving “Reckless Abandon” is a transcendent ballad with folksy undertones, while “Acts of God” is a driving loud/soft rocker that serves as a great showcase for Thomas’ formidable vocal talents. Other highlights include powerhouse tracks like “Saving Time” and “Ghost,” two of Wilder’s most melodically memorable songs yet and the best examples of the band fulfilling those “songs that stand on their own” goals of 2015. The album ends with “Thick As Thieves,” a high-octane barnburner with a Rockabilly feistiness on which Steffen and Thomas trade off lines and harmonize with Johnny-and-June-like chemistry.
Outside of providing guidance for some consumers, genre classification seems to be becoming less and less relevant. Most of that is likely due to the way music is now consumed and the easy accessibility of every conceivable sound and style. But the trend away from categorization spotlights a fundamental truism that Wilder’s Pick Your Poison also hammers home: No matter the playlist or what section you put it in at the record store, a good song is a good song.
Wilder releases Pick Your Poison this Saturday in conjunction with an album release party at Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport, southgatehouse.com). The all-ages event in the venue’s Sanctuary room kicks off at 8 p.m. and features performances by Chelsea Ford & The Trouble, The Poor Hours and Honey & Houston. The $15 ticket price includes a copy of Pick Your Poison on CD ($10 advance tickets without a CD are available at ticketweb.com).
For more on Wilder (and to stream Pick Your Poison now), visit wildertunes.com.