Ted Z. and the Wranglers
Go Find Your Heaven
Go Find Your Heaven is available at:
The album Ghost Train is out now:
Hold On– 9.4
Joseph Ratcliffe– 9.4
Go Find Your Heaven– 9.6
Bitter Hands– 9.5
Ghost Train– 9.6
Ball and Chain– 9.6
Sam Whitaker– 9.4
Go Find Your Heaven; Bitter Hands; Ghost Train; Ball and Chain
Go Find Your Heaven
WITH the final days of the year upon us; Christmas even closer…
it is worth reflecting on the year’s music and which albums are worth noting; the individuality of some of music’s best- in addition to the variety of Americana/Folk acts emerging. The best and brightest albums from this year have been synonymous with acts that have pushed the envelope and injected colour and originality into their sounds. Kendrick Lamar and his album To Pimp a Butterfly has topped critics’ list of 2015’s best. The Hip-Hop gem has seen black politics come to the fore and his timing is wonderful. Now more than ever an album like this needs to exist: something that blends outrage and anger with self-examination and urgency. Critics and fans have embraced the album and its meaning; that relevant and needed sense of disgust and rebellion- mixed into Deep-Jazz threads and hard Hip-Hop beats. Elsewhere, Courtney Barrnett emerged with her album Sometime I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. That collection was celebrated for its humour and anger; the mixes and contrasts delighted the public. Not a Rock ‘n’ Roll album that reinvented the genre; it didn’t really need to when it came down it- Barnett put so much originality and invention into the music as it was. In a music world of rather bland and tired Rock acts; Barnett went further and expanded the lyrical themes of her peers- creating something deeper and more compelling. The final album- that gained recognition and widespread acclaim- was Jamie xx’s disc, In Colour. The immersive and multifarious soundscapes fluid compositions were unlike anything out forward this year. Throw in accessibility, heart and dreaminess and you have an album that has resonated with listeners and critics alike. Jamie xx crafted something minimalist yet widely expansive: an album that grows with each listener and shows so many layers and intricacies. My point is that these albums are as distinct and original as any. Critics have not embraced the fetid and asinine releases from Rock heavyweights and chart-friendly acts. It would be disheartening to see a list compiled of top-40 records and the dross played across Kiss F.M. and Heart. As the music-buying public has related to the outsiders of music- those that stray away from the pack- it shows 2016 will be a similar year for endeavor and quality I have slated the lack of great bands coming through- the best albums of the year have been largely created by solo acts- yet there are some quirky and bracing bands that are causing excitement. This is my last review of the year- and the final California-based assessment for some time- so it is fitting we comes to a band that not only portrays that uniqueness and vibrancy music needs; they are a group that does not concern itself with fitting in and mainstream expectations- just making music the way they feel; doing what sounds right to them. Before I get to them, it is worth looking at the necessity for variation and personality in music. The artists and albums I highlighted resulted from musicians who have spent time and effort; differ hugely from the chart-friendly acts and those gracing the covers of Pop magazines. From hard, grizzled and compelling Australian Rock (Barnett) to hypnotic Hip-Hop politics (Lamar) – via the stunning soundscapes of England’s Jamie xx- and you have consistency and contrasts a-plenty. Each album drips with authority and passion; each stays in the mind and provides nuance and strength- this is what acts should be looking at when crafting their sounds. There are far too many artists that stick too closely to others; do not delve deep enough and provide originality or anything exceptional. You do not have to reinvent music to come up with unique music, alas- just put more thought and attention into things. In terms of the bands of 2015- and focusing on the mainstream here- there have been few truly unexpected treats and wonders. Whilst it has been the solo artists making biggest impressions; the bands of the underground are more convincing and enduring. One of these rather special groups comes in the form of Ted Z. and the Wranglers. Looking and listening to them you may expect them to emanate from Nashville or the Deep South- they have a certain Country flavor; one of the red states’ artists. The blue state boys hail from California and mix Country flavours of the south with Americana tradition and outlaw Blues. The mix of sounds and themes has electrified listeners and really struck a chord. Before I continue on my point, let me introduce you to my featured act:
“Ted Z and the Wranglers, of Southern California, deliver outlaw country-charged rock. Ted’s catchy story-songs are fully-realized tales of love, regret, getting older, and getting in trouble. The band stirs up its Americana influences, featuring quick picking and bluesy slide guitar over galloping train beats and swinging shuffles.
The Wranglers are Dan Mages (bass), Mike Myers (drums, vocals), and Ted Z. (lead and slide guitar, vocals). The band has honed its sound on big stages and in biker bars alike. They get audiences dancing and bring them back for more.
Ted Z and The Wranglers were signed to Rip Cat Records in 2015. Their first label release, Ghost Train, was recorded at Yellow Dog Studios in Wimberley, TX and produced by Monty Byrom (Big House, Eddie Money)”.
The good ol’ boys of Ted Z.’ sojourned to Texas to record their album (Ghost Train) to give it that authenticity- find inspiration from the state and create something with its heart very much set there. What you get from the album is the work of a band that has few limits- they do not define themselves to be Californian or Texan. The music they offer is from a band who have been around for a while and are in no danger of slowing down- one of the most hard-working and ambitious groups on the scene. Americana is a genre that is being given new lease of life and motivation lately. A lot of the Americana artists I have reviewed this year have emanated from the U.K. – acts that have faux Americana accents; yet are keen to provide their take on the genre. It is one of those musical avenues that appeal to the romantic and daring: people that want to create something memorable and long-lasting. Americana is not just about Folk/Country blends and rather stilted and defined themes: you can stretch the genre and you have enormous possibilities. Ted Z. and the Wranglers are inspired by the likes of Jack White and Bob Dylan; they go hard and electric when they need to- Folk-tinged and reflective at other times. After the release of the album; the boys have been touring and taking their music on the road- this will continue into 2016. If you have not met these rebel-rousing, fun-having boys then make sure you correct this- they will be an underground band making their way to the surface real soon.
Ghost Train shows the band at the height of their power. The most compelling and complete work they have ever produced; it sees them embrace all their idols and influences- from Elvis Presley to Jack White- in an album of heart, granite; passion and wonderful American vignettes. The band’s 2014 release Like a King showed the boys increase their confidence and scope to create something that topped their early promise and work- songs like Rather and Afraid of Dying. The band steps up their game and sound tighter and more additive than ever. The title track has a relentless wave and drive to it; the vocal yearns with soulfulness and intention- the lyrics show that unique and distinct Ted Z. and the Wranglers flair. Virginia is one of their most impassioned and romantic numbers up until this point. Chasing rivers downtown; our man is love-sick and cannot get over it- that yearning and pain comes to the surface. Tomorrow ends the E.P. with reflectiveness and some need for love. Investigating dreams and the future; it is a song that has sensitivity and honesty. The band have improved and stretched their sound since their last E.P. Ghost Train takes the softer and more introspective moments and broadens the horizons and genres. There are more Blues-Rock jams and harder sounds here; the band has become more adventurous with their themes- taking their pen across the country and through strange avenues. The music is more nuanced and the volume turned up; there are fewer weak moments and the group infuses more colour and weight into their music. The likes of Elvis, Dylan and Jack White make appearances in different forms- the previous work was more restrained and defined- and Ted Z.’ have created an album that builds on early promise and develops it impressively- without losing their personalities and core sound. With that rate of progression and ambition it will be great to see what the Californian band come up with in the next year. I can see another E.P. created that reflects their current malaise and desires- something that continues where Ghost Train left off. Their current album is one of the most immediate and bold I have heard in a while; so much depth and diversion to be found- something all bands should look towards.
Go Find Your Heaven is perhaps the truest reflection of Ted Z. and the Wranglers’ sound. It brings together all the themes and threads of Ghost Train– marrying a variety of genres and sounds. The introduction mixes Blues and Acoustic strands to elicit something romantic and upbeat; calming and reflective- something both complicated and simple at the same time. The listener gets drawn into that beautiful and soul-pleasing sound; making you wonder just what is coming next. That initial intrigue builds and flourishes from the initial seconds. The electric guitar becomes more prominent and hard-hitting; it twangs and drives with determination and pride- infuses electricity and feet-kicking energy into the mix. With our hero’s voice committed and solid- reminding me a little of Bruce Springsteen- it is 3 in the morning; the girl beside him looks familiar (“she looks just like you”). In a God-forsaken town- that seems to be dragging her/our hero down- there is that need to go find Heaven and something more idyllic. Those yearning and heart-rending vocals are among the most impressive and pure the band has ever come up with. The percussion remains committed and propulsive in the early moments- supporting that vocal and making the emotions and lyrics more urgent. The girl has been forced into a shotgun wedding- with whom we are not made aware- but you start to dive into the song and the scenes being projected. The band have always had one part of their mind in the past- no surprise given their make-up and look- but this song has the feel of ‘40s/’50s America; perhaps somewhere down south- a simple town with rather old-fashioned and immoral ideals. With its heart and images torn from the pages of classic literature- that forced-love and suppression-against-the-tide- and you have a song that seems familiar and relatable. With “angels of mercy” and cowboys into the song, you get something that definitely places its heart down in Texas. The central figure (the heroine) needs some salvation and an escape from her life as it is. Our hero will wait for the girl- as he implores her to go find her truth and Heaven. As seasons pass, there is that need to break away from the entrapment and suffocation. The song never becomes too heavy-handed or forceful; never slight or too tender- a perfect blend and balance of emotions. The band remains supportive and tight throughout the track; ensuring the lyrics are given a chance to shine whilst providing plenty of atmosphere and evocation.
Our man is not right for the girl (“I’ll never do”) and that sense of letting-her-go-for-her-own-good shows some maturity and class. Maybe that sentiment is a reflection on the town and culture of the times- and indicative of the south many decades ago- whereas the land offer happiness and hope. Perhaps the heroine needs to go to the big cities or California- somewhere safer and moral-driven; where something happier lies. Our hero comes to the microphone yet his heart is heavy- Nashville is making him feel blue- and there is that sense of loss and heartache. The man has taken the paychecks and spent it all on booze; there is that old-time charm to the song that makes it constantly engaging and fascinating. With its novel-like development and feel, Go Find Your Heaven is an original and compelling song from one of the U.S.’s most original acts. Whilst our man is trying to move on and find something new- his girl just won’t do; they are too different- he seems unable to move past her. His new girl looks like the last; he has subconsciously chosen someone like her- clearly unable to get past the separation. The track shows two different people from two different worlds. Whilst the heroine seems destined for the city and a wealthier life- where things are done differently- the hero seems prone to stay in the south among the loose morals and strange figures. It is a testament from a hero who wants the girl badly yet knows they are not right for one another. The lyrics have simplicity at heart yet compel deeper thought and interpretation. That chorus seems more relevant and haunting with each interpretation- as the full weight of emotions becomes clear. The final moments see the band unite and express that loss and hope in a rhapsody of acoustic strings and Americana reflection. The compositional coda offers some closure to an extent although there are mysterious and questions unanswered- you wonder how it worked out for the duo. The band come together beautifully to showcase some fine finger-picking and tenderness; plenty of emotion and soothing undertones. By the final moments you hear that chorus once more and become engrossed in that endlessly-compelling and beautiful sound.
Across Ghost Train, there is so much range and depth; a variety of moods and themes explored. Among the softer and romantic moments stands Go Find Your Heaven. A song that looks at miscast love and heady desires; it shows a vintage backdrop against ever-relevant and relatable heartache. The band come together wonderfully to present a song that is the album’s best. Dan Mages’ bass keeps the song level and focused; ensuring all the themes and sounds are held together perfectly- not allowing anything to become undisciplined or loose. Mike Myers lets his sturdy and impassioned percussion whip up a lot of emotion and force- giving the song its needed urgency and grit. Our front-man Ted Z. stands out front with a dedicated vocal performance- and some superb guitar chops- to give the song its heart and conviction. Backed by a wonderful and polished production; Go Find Your Heaven is a song that will linger in the mind and gives you a true impression of the band. If you have not heard Ted Z. and the Wranglers do what they do best then you need to start here. It shows a songwriting progression and confidence that will see them do great business in 2016. Few bands are deft and able spreading themselves across multiple genres and themes. Having been together for a while- and having such a close bond- the Californian boys demonstrate why they are so popular and loved. I hope their music gets more exposure in the U.K. as it will not only create new fans and admirers; it will motivate other bands to rise up and follow their lead- a new scene and sense of fun in this country.
Ghost Train is filled with songs that stick in the mind and compel the imagination. The work of a passion for music; a love of many genres and artists- they have few limits and boundaries when it comes to their sources- it golds together in a creation that brims with passion and fun; there is emotion and reflection too- everything the modern listeners desires and demands. The boys of Ted Z. and the Wranglers have a great sense of humour and have crafted a band that have an everyman appeal and a knowing wink to them. If you hop to Facebook- and see their biography- their interests are listed as hop-making and metal-detecting; academia and latex clothing. It is an insight into the minds of men who want to embrace the public and let their personalities shine. So many musicians are stuffy and insular; they do not reach out and provide anything human and impressive. So many bands sit and write music; they get into the studio and release the songs- it seems procedural and robotic to an extent. The Californian band had a ball making the music and wants to keep that degree of fun and frivolity burning bright. The next year will see them perform in California and bring their inimitable Americana blends to their state-mate folk. It would be great to see the U.S. band hop a plane and come play in the U.K. We have so few bands like them; it would give people here a chance to encounter something fresh, ambitious and hugely impressive. We have some rather offbeat and quirky acts that evoke Americana sounds and sensations of bygone days; it seems rather forced at times and not as authentic as you’d hope- hardly a wonder when you consider they are British. Our Americana boys are authentic and pure; their music is the result of shared passion and ideals- I would love to see more from the group into the next year. Before closing it is worth looking at the best from this year and Ghost Train– the latest album from the Californian band. With Hendrixk Lamar and Jamie xx providing some of 2016’s best albums- their mix of raw emotion and expansive dream-scapes- the music world desires artists that go further and stray away from the predictable. So many bands this year have come and gone without leaving much of an impression at all. The critics’ end-of-year lists have revealed what is making them tick- and what the general public wants- so it is worth looking at artists with a similar ambition and personality. In 2016 I think we will shy away from bands that have an Indie/Alternative sound- and look to Foo Fighters and Nirvana for influence- and see the rise of the solo artists and duos. The band market is still relevant yet the solo artists are doing things differently and creating more nuance and surprise. When it comes to the hopes of the band realm we must look to the underground and their brightest shining through. Ted Z. & the Wranglers are not your average guitar-slamming Alternative players that sounds replicated and insipid- they are a bona fide band who do things different and have a very unique personality. Ghost Train is a collection of songs that mix Blues-Rock riffs and Garage undertones; Country romance and Folk introspection- plenty of interesting characters and sights; wonderfully lines and stunning choruses.
Hold On begins with a familiar and bracing introduction- a little like Cocaine (Eric Clapton’s version) – but then mutates into something smooth and flowing. An upbeat and uplifting song that has a redemptive and inspiration message: keep holding if you have no hope or feel alone. Joseph Ratcliff boasts sparkling Blues guitars and a merry swing: a song that swaggers and dances. The lyrics look at a giant called Joseph Ratcliff- slayed by our hero in his garden. The quirky and vivid images tie in romance and pennies in wishing wells. Kansas is another racing and itinerant track that pays tribute to the state. There is a central romance and the need for embrace- there is fever in the morning and Hell burning through the night- as you get drawn into that effusive and gripping vocal. Trouble is one of the album’s most contemplative and calmer numbers. A little of Dylan comes through- the vocals are quite scratched and strained- and you get a semblance of ‘60s-‘70s Folk. Perhaps the most accessible number on the album; it has a radio-friendly kick but retains the unique take of Ted Z. & the Wranglers. Bitter Hands has a bulldozer and delirious opener that see echoed and distorted strings marry a racing, train-like beat. That Americana core is emphasised- money woes and relationship troubles against the backdrop of the wonderfully varied land- which shows the band having a ball in the studio. Catchy chorusing and united vocals highlight a song that is indelible in its appeal and nuance. The title track is a calm and reflective thing (to start with). Looking at music’s lost- the ghost train full of stars- we see the likes of John Lennon paid tribute and assessed. It is an original take on a delicate subject- the legacy these great musicians and figures have left- dealt with affectionately and with great heart. With the likes of Ricky Nelson and Jim Morrison riding that train- he has “whiskey on his mind”- it is a vidia and terrifically evocative song. Ball and Chain is a rousing and merry track that has a definite Blues kick to it. One of the most electric and impassioned vocals on the disc; there is a little element of Elvis to the vocals- a stunning mix of Rock ‘n’ Roll heritage and White Stripes-esque Blues. A feet-kicking, hoe-down stomp; it is a tremendous band performance that is tight and utterly stunning. Sam Whitaker is a more modern take on the Blues. You get that stomp of Jack White with a bit of The Black Keys. Making it more accessible to the younger generations; it manages to take its lyrical heart to more traditional areas- that will appeal and spike the (slightly) older listeners. It is one of the album’s most energised and rousing tracks- it never relents its charge and kick. Postcard returns to that more traditional Americana/Folk sound; it has a quivering vocal- sides of Elvis come back into the mix- and themes of romance and vintage ideals. With its heart in the 1950s, you imagine yourself in an old novel or black-and-white film. Among the romance and purity is wit and humour scenes- dentures flying and chaos in the fold- as the band seem at their most assured and effortless. Another catchy and nuanced composition backs the track wonderfully. Broken is one of the most distinct songs on the record- perhaps the softest and most reflective. A heart-bearing and haunted track it sees the hero bare his soul and show his scars. Reminding me of early-Dylan and Neil Young it showcases a very mature lyrical voice- some of the finest lines across the album- as philosophical questions and inner-pain is explored. A wonderful album from a band…
WE all should take to heart.
Follow Ted Z. & the Wranglers: