Wire Mountain (Keeled Scales)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Sept. 27, 2019
Mood can intimidate and inspire in the same breath. Whereas 2017's Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm roiled in a highway expanse, Wire Mountain finds Austin's Will Johnson hunkered down in reflection – primal, visceral, searching. Credit the opening tone set to the dark rumble of guitar and Thor Harris' pounding percussion on "Necessitarianism (Fred Merkle's Blues)," which unfurls a restlessness behind the revered songwriter's dusky moans. With his debut for local imprint Keeled Scales, the former Centro-matic fulcrum draws in an array of new talent, most notably Little Mazarn's Lindsey Verrill, who contributes ambient shading with backing vocals that match Johnson's lyrical pull on the stunning "Carousel Victor." Likewise, her banjo, cello, and scratched fiddle chiaroscuros haunt "Gasconade" and fold into the tender fragility of "A Solitary Slip." Jon Dee Graham's lap steel and electric guitar spike the anthemic "Cornelius," resurrected from old demos to provide the Side A centerpiece. Johnson remains ever poetic, lines cast out in cryptic yet evocative vividness that skirt the edges of deeper revelations, even as the backside of Wire Mountain avalanches two instrumentals: storm-swept "Chimera" and gorgeous closing piano and kalimba mix "(You Were) Just Barely You." Late LP gem "Need of Trust and Thunder" offers a gentle prayer of parting, knotting the thematic threads of Johnson's tension between holding on and letting go.