(5 / 5)
From the first few seconds of the opener, “Rattle”, there’s a tingle runs up and down the spine. The ears tune in within a fraction of a second and the brain whirrs into action; trying to remember when was the last time a debut album from a British band sounded as bloody gorgeous as this.
An uber-infectious, acoustic focused alt-folk meets pop ditty which gets under your skin and is undeniably infectious. The four-part close harmonies are the best thing you’ll hear this side of the Atlantic and lead me back to the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and of course, the band these two guys and two girls will always be mentioned in the same breath with: Fleetwood Mac.
But The Wandering Hearts – AJ Dean Revington, Chess Whiffin, Tara Wilcox and Tim Prottey Jones – are treading their own path, delicately straddling modern country, roots, folk and pop in the same way that perhaps the wonderful Lady Antebellum did when Radio 2 first started playing them back in the days of Wogan, and his late and great producer Paul Walters.
The broadcasting pair were mostly responsible for introducing the British public to great new US country music from such artists as as Garth, Shania, Faith, LeAnn, The Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum.
A former single which got The Wandering Hearts noticed on a national basis, “I Wish I Could”, is a pretty mid-tempo affair, where AJ and Tara swap lead lines seamlessly, and the ensemble add the “whoah oohhs, whoah oohh’s”, to thicken the sound and add those sweet spot USP harmonies. Great hook which you’ll be humming and singing soon after first listen. Bet ya!
“Fire and Water” had that chugging acoustic rhythmic vibe like KT Tunstall and Mumford and Sons, anthemic vibes…you can easily imagine this band up there on a huge arena stage in the UK, Europe or USA and holding their own.
Maybe even guesting at The Brits and one day picking up a shiny gold gong themselves, when their commercial modern country sound crosses over after they come up with THE big hit they need, which I am sure they have in their arsenal or will have soon. By the way: When was the last time you heard a young, modern day band add a yodelling section in a song and get away with it? Another unstoppable ear worm.
Four cuts in and they slow it down for the first ballad; “If I Fall” with the ladies taking the lead. Just acoustic guitar as accompaniment, before all four chip in with those glorious harmonies, until 100 seconds in the drums subtly join the party. A tad Coors-ish and a very nice job.
A standout piece of songwriting, “Change For The Good”, and beautifully produced. Show me a British band making music as good as this right now, apart from The Wandering Hearts. “Devil” is a pleasing commercial cut with some nifty production values. Great groove on “Biting Through The Wires”, and surely ready for US radio. Keith Urban rockin’ vibes maybe, and then that softer side of the lush female vocals and four part harmonies.
The title cut hands over the vocal to the ladies, piano the backbone to the acoustic guitars and the percussive element (courtesy of Tim, a multi-instrumentalist and accomplished drummer); again those harmonies seal the deal. “Laid In The Ground”, a slow, gentle English folk vibe, which subtly builds in the emotional stakes. Hints of a deep cello on “Burning Bridges” and more shades of folk. Stunning harmonies, yet again.
Not the Elvis song…”Heartbreak Hotel” doesn’t relent on the quality, and the sheer class of the song craftsmanship and the performances. The closer of the dozen impressive originals, “Iona”, is an epic; and will conjure up cinematic pictures of a rugged Scottish island and the wind-swept characters that inhabit it. Think the ethereal qualities of Enya, Clannad, Fleetwood Mac and The Corrs……………………..
Like every second of this astounding record (for a debut), the chemistry is remarkable as a unit, and it is as clear as day that all four of these people are superb musicians and all four are great individual singers in their own right.
But like the old saying about finding “the one” in affairs of the heart, goes: “There’s a pot for every lid”, and the fact these four found each other in the great big Metropolis called London to make music together like this is a miracle, and a blessing for all who get to hear it.
AJ, Chess, Tim and Tara dropped their first EP “Burning Bridges” in November last year (2017), and if PR spin is not a part of their backstory and this is a fact; an amazing road to success for the two guys and the two gals in this London band.
As the four met almost by chance, and were discovered by heavyweight management less than half an hour after uploading their first ever demo to SoundCloud; recorded only the second time the band had met to rehearse together.
Their shared passion for Americana and vocal harmonies drew them together just over two years ago, and one afternoon in an empty bar in Crouch End, London, The Wandering Hearts were born. The band signed a major recording deal with Decca Records shortly after.
One of the best things about this album and the way it has been presented, is the fact the production values have allowed the songs to stand on their own two feet and to breath. Not too much has been thrown at them to polish stuff up and risk suffocating the beauty and the simplicity of the song writing.
The performances are unbeatable – and there is no one focal point, or lead singer. This is very much a four part group and all of them add huge value. Sheer joy and an uplifting spirit marinated deep into every nuance – and I suspect producer Pete Hammerton thought he’d won the lottery when he heard this outfit around a microphone, and how shit hot their harmonies and lead vocals are.
The Wandering Hearts wrote and recorded the majority of their debut album at an East London recording studio, with the acclaimed producer and songwriter, who has worked with Pixie Lott, Kelly Clarkson, Little Mix, The Shires, Ward Thomas, Randy Houser and many more big and up and coming names.
They have already won an award even before this album came out – Bob Harris’ choice for “Emerging Artist” in this year’s UK Americana Awards, where the band performed live and jammed in the finale with the likes of Robert Plant, Mumford and Sons and Imelda May. They have already been playlisted on BBC Radio 2 with a previous single.
In-between recording dates, the band played their second sold out show in London at The Borderline and performed at summer festivals across the country, including British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park – sharing the bill with the late Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks and label-mates The Lumineers.
In the autumn, they joined the legendary Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives on their UK tour, during which Marty personally invited them to join him on tour in Nashville in June 2018.
The timing could not be better for this band and this record. With country music losing its “yee haa/cowboy hat” stigma and becoming cool again, attracting young audiences and fans to the genre.
The likes of British acts The Shires and Ward Thomas turning heads in Nashville too, and some great new acts waiting in the wings to break through; such as Twinnie (she’s gonna be big…), I confidently predict that The Wandering Hearts could do even better than The Shires and Ward Thomas given time to develop and grow as a unit.
Country is a hard market to crack, and the majority of British country has always had a poor reputation outside of the line dancing clubs, but once you have fans in that genre, you have got them for life if you stay true to the music.
With country being the second biggest selling genre in America right now, and big box office for arena and stadium tours, it is big business for sure. The door for UK artists to be invited in across the pond, is already ajar. I’d bet it will eventually be slung wide open for these cool cats.
It may take another album or two, but they are well on their way to a long term career; much success within their grasp and bundles of credibility. Decca have a smash hit band on their hands, I am sure; just don’t mention The Beatles!
- Their first headline tour takes in Bristol, Cambridge, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and London’s prestigious Bush Hall, from 18th Feb to 1st March. Five of the six dates are now sold out. The Manchester show has been moved to a bigger venue (Ruby Lounge) to accommodate demand, so there are some tickets left for that show at time of writing. The Wandering Hearts appear at the Country2Country Festival at London’s 02 Arena in March.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’