It must be said, the ‘roots revival’ sweeping the UK at the moment is producing and unearthing many hitherto unknown yet brilliant talents. However, blessed it may be for all fans of everything old, the avalanche of embarrassingly-clichéd Americana-influenced groups has caused many an eager listener — this reviewer included — to be sceptical when faced with a track listing including song titles such as ‘Red Rattler’ and ‘Rusty River’, as appears on Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson’s second LP, Wiley Ways.
This entirely self-written exploration of American folk and country blues by the Australia-based husband-and-wife duo, however, is not to be tarred with such a brush; what Fitz and Robinson create here is something far more honest, convincing and, most importantly of all, thoroughly enjoyable compared to your standard cheesy Americana fare.
Opening with rhythmic hand claps, cheers and stomp box, the album’s first track, ‘Power’, lives up to its name with a catchy vocal line from Robinson, rolling gospel and bar room all into one. Following ‘Eliza Blue’, a plodding, Delta blues tale of a 19th century ship and its ill-fated cargo, is ‘Absent Eyes’, where Hat Fitz’s deep, grizzly growl first comes to the fore, and goes on to share lead vocals with the foot-tappin’, Seasick Steve-esque ‘Company Underground’.
If you’re still thinking that you’ve heard all this before, the truth is you might have, but even then the duo must be commended for the way in which they strive for authenticity. Many of the weird and wonderful sounds on Wiley Ways come from instruments made out of such objects as bedpans, cigarette boxes and leather bags, which really add to the inventiveness of tracks like ‘Go Daddy’.
The songs aren’t soulless, either. ‘Play Me Something New’, led by Fitz, is a captivating country ballad that uses listening to the same old records as a metaphor for an exhausted relationship, while album closer ‘Rusty River’, led by Robinson, is a touching folk song that could easily hold its own against the likes of Laura Marling. The great tragedy is that it might not ever get the chance to, as for the most part Wiley Ways never quite escapes from the feeling that we’ve heard it all before. For those who do come across it, however, it’ll doubtless be enjoyed time and again.
Rated 7 out of 10