Alongside the remarkable release of The Bibelhauser Brothers' album, 'Close Harmony', we now are gifted with Aaron Bibelhauser's latest "band" project, with the Kentucky super group, Wolfpen Branch. While 'Close Harmony' was a tribute to brother harmony and vocal band tradition, this album is a band project that arose from members of Kentucky's own 23 String Band, The Wooks and Relic. The band is made up of Arthur Hancock (guitar, vocals), Chris Shouse (mandolin, vocals), Aaron Bibelhauser (banjo, vocals), Roddy Puckett (bass, vocals) and Jeff Guernsey (fiddle). A tight bunch of highly motivated and skilled musicians have come together and produced an album like an alchemist and have succeeded in bringing forth pure gold. So, first of all: thank you for this record!
'Long Hill To Climb' is an eleven track album with that ranges from traditional songs over original tracks to cover songs by Tyler Childers and Tom Petty. This clearly shows not only the ambition, but also the skills and influences this band is deriving from.
The record starts off with a banjo lick by Aaron Bibelhauser to open with his original song 'Long Hill To Climb'. Being the title track it also lends itself to being the title track of the album with a fast bluegrass pace, hard-driving banjo, great melody and compelling harmonies. And of course, Bibelhauser's very own style of songwriting and singing: “So hard to tell what's on your mind – You call me yours, I'll call you mine – Just when we find ourselves, wrecking out of our shells – Loving so hard to find – But it's a long hill to climb.”
This incredible song is followed by Tyler Childers', 'Born Again', from his 2017 album Purgatory. A great song and this new band does him justice by giving him a bluegrass flair – stunning. Next is another original song. This time by mandolin player, Chris Shouse, of the 23 String Band. This song has a great steady rolling, kind of… swamp rock feeling. Take a listen for yourself and see what you think. Also included are originals by Arthur Hancock, founding member of The Wooks.
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to pick out 'Square One', written by Tom Petty for the 2005 soundtrack 'Elizabethtown', later to be released on Petty's album 'Highway Companion'. The guys really make this song their own while still finding a way to stay true to the original roots. The fiddle playing and outstanding harmony really work together to create an incredible dynamic. Let's put it this way: This record is great all the way up to the last track, the everlasting 'Darling Corey'. In a more modern and progressive arrangement it makes for the perfect ending to this inspiring bluegrass album with a southern rock attitude. I seriously hope that this outfit stays together for more records. Oh, and catch them live if you get the chance.
Severin Theinert for