On their debut album, Portraits, Wheeler Brothers, an Austin-based folk-rock quintet consisting of three actual brothers named Wheeler (Patrick, drums, percussion; Tyler, bass; and Nolan, vocals, guitar, piano) and two friends (A.J. Molyneaux, vocals, guitar, banjo, violin; and Danny Matthews, vocals, guitar, melodica), live up to the title by providing a series of story-songs, or, more accurately, character songs, creating a gallery of interesting first-person accounts set to lively musical arrangements. Vocals are passed around among Nolan Wheeler, Molyneaux, and Matthews, all capable singers, and the music often has a country feel without really fitting into the country category. Whether on the rollicking opener, "Long, Hard Road," the pop shuffle "Portraits" itself, or the spooky closing waltz "Ghost in the Valley," with its banjo and accordion (courtesy of engineer/mixer Mark Hallman), the playing is always closely knit, in arrangements full of surprising juxtapositions and tempo shifts. The characters may be reflecting on their lives while stamping license plates in jail ("Spent Time") or struggling in the post-Civil War South ("Mississippi"), but the people are always individual, their circumstances specific and interesting. All of this makes Portraits an ambitious first album in some ways similar to the Band's Music from Big Pink, even if the musical style, while also rootsy, is quite different.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann