King Wilkie

Low Country Suite

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Having built a reputation as a bluegrass band to watch out for, King Wilkie decided that it was time to see what else they could do for their follow-up to 2004's Broke. The answer is plenty -- there's still some great traditional and progressive bluegrass to be had from this Virginia sextet, but Low Country Suite presents a more well-rounded -- though still mostly acoustic -- Americana that only the most die-hard bluegrass purists among the group's fan base might object to. Reference points are fairly easy to pinpoint: the usual gang of late-'60s country-rockers (minus most of the rock), the less navel-gazing of the introspective singer/songwriters of the '70s (plus some punch), and the more recent crop of hybrid bands that have successfully merged those same influences and put a modernist spin on them. King Wilkie's change in direction -- more personalized, often moodier songs, flirtations with pop, more challenging song structures -- would not have worked if they weren't crafting material good enough to take the band to that next level, and they are: "Angeline" is a shambling honky tonker fueled by scurrying fiddles and soulful steel, while "Stone & Steel" is of the opposite temperament, a whisper of a ballad whose vocal harmonies and foreboding melody sum up just how willing King Wilkie are to visit new places. They probably could have continued to become an even better bluegrass band, but King Wilkie now have something more original and lasting to offer. Bill Monroe would forgive them.

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