Rich and charming whether presented to us in melancholic or cathartic terms, the vocal harmonies in Webster’s Wheel’s Made in Sunshine are every bit the cornerstone of the duo’s new album. In songs like “Well,” the subtle but vibrant “Grapes of Wrath” and jubilant “Daisy Chain,” they put forth an emotional energy that words couldn’t have conveyed on their own. While I think Made in Sunshine was tailored more to the taste of a diehard folky, its essential elements – and especially this one – are what make it accessible to most anyone who loves music.
The string component to “Little Boy Blue,” “If You Know,” “Zen is When” and freeing “Reasons” puts some extra emphasis on the rustic tone of the lyricism, but I wouldn’t say that anything here qualifies as a specific throwback to prewar Americana. That said, Webster’s Wheel never seem to have a problem wearing their influences (and hearts) on their sleeve when it matters most, going as far as alluding to a gospel swing in the title track that shamelessly bleeds into “A Note” and picks up where the sly grooves behind “Friday Night” left off. Is it particularly groundbreaking? If you analyze this songcraft for the passion in its presence, it just might be.
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I found the balance of old school folk melodies in “Yet I Let,” “No Thoughts Just Happy” and “Fourteen More”” and the overall modernity of the production style here to be especially striking in my initial sit-down with Made in Sunshine this past weekend. Although there’s nothing overly sparkling about the master mix, there’s absolutely a stunning definition to every element from the texture of the strings to the way they resonate with the dueling lead vocals. It takes more than a big budget to accomplish this – frankly, it takes a devotion to the music that you don’t find very often on the FM dial anymore.
It would be really intriguing to find out which of the tracks on Made in Sunshine were born of jam sessions, as I feel that a lot of this material sounds like it was derived from the best kind of improvisational medleys. “A Note,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “If You Know” and “Well” definitely play out like something you’d hear around a warm campfire on a cool summer night, and better yet, they impose no self-righteousness or hipster saccharinity (which is always a good thing in my book).
Webster’s Wheel are definitely an interesting act to keep your eye on in 2021, and while they’re not quite finished with the task of developing their own perfect signature, Made in Sunshine is the definitive look into their artistry that tells me they’re onto something really good. It’s going to be a minute before I have the chance to catch these two on stage, but in the meantime I think what they offer us here is a superb way of understanding not only their abilities as performers, but more importantly, their depth as artists in a new era for folk music. I look forward to hearing more from them soon.