Published on October 4th, 2012 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Whiskey Diablo Wails Away
Charleston combo Whiskey Diablo’s full-length album Wail and Serenade is a rambunctious debut collection that almost didn’t see the light of day. An unexpected studio mishap nearly sunk the album as the band was adding the final flourishes. Fortunately, lead singer/guitarist Patrick Blake and his bandmates, drummer Brian Widlowski and bassist Jonathan Gray shrugged it off, re-recorded the damaged tracks, and got on with it.
Blake chuckles while talking about the delay, but the snag was one of several challenges during the recording and production processes over the last year. Blake and the band started arranging and tracking songs for Wail and Serenade last fall at Charleston Studio with local engineer Jay Miley. In traditional form, they laid down the basic drum and bass tracks first, and then added Blake’s vocals, lead guitars, harmonica, horns, piano, and other embellishments. Unfortunately, toward the end of the mixing process, studio’s hard drive went down, and they lost numerous overdubs.
“It was the day of the final mix when the hard drive crashed,” Blake remembers. “I kind of laughed at it all when it happened. The foundation was there, but lost about 40 percent of the extra tracks. Just about all of the guest musicians had to come back in and redo their parts.”
Whiskey Diablo enlisted an impressive cast of guest players for the sessions, including jazzy electric guitarist Bobby Hogg, pedal steel player Rhodes Bailey, harmonica player Hank Marley, mandolinist Aaron Firetag, pianist Whitt Algar, sax player Andy Masker, and trumpeter Andrew O’Connor. Luckily, everyone was accommodating and understanding.
“I did all of the drum parts that are on there back in November,” says Widlowski. “My work was done in a few weeks, and then everything else built up. Over the course of time, between those sessions and what we’re doing on stage now, the way we play songs has changed a little bit. I always try to approach the songs with the appropriate style, and then I add my own style to it.”
Blake adds, “I had to do most of my guitar and vocal parts again. There’s one guitar chord in there that’s out of tune, I know that. The occasional mistake gives character, I think. I’m not so concerned about that. Everything’s pretty close, though. Jay was gracious about fixing it, which as really cool, but when we finally finished this project. I think he was really ready for it to be done.”
Blake formed Whiskey Diablo in 2010 after stepping away from his previous project, a rockin’ swamp-blues duo called Whiskey ‘n’ Ramblin’ with percussionist Keith Clarry. Blake invited Widlowski to keep time and Gray (formerly of Jump, Little Children) to thump the upright. A variety of guests pitched in at shows over the last two years, including local guitarists Jason Brachman and Chris Bunton, but the trio Blake, Widlowski, and Gray was the solid core throughout.
“When I first met up with Patrick, the approach to the drum parts was to play what I felt for the songs,” Widlowski says. “I came from a jazz perspective, and I wasn’t familiar with specific rockabilly or country drummers by name, so I didn’t model my parts after anyone in particular. I just played what I thought sound the best for each song.”
They jump from style to style on much of Wail and Serenade. The upbeat album opener, “Smokin’ Drinkin’ And Dancin’,” is a hot-rod rockabilly number with plant of twangy pedal steel that establishes the hedonistic tone and liquored-up theme of the album. The groove-heavy, Southern blues-rockers “Find it All” and “In the City” could work well on a Widespread Panic or Gov’t Mule disc. Blake calls out a few former lady friends on the amusingly scathing “Three X Wives.” Half of the gruff, fast-tempo “Purchase Ridge” sounds like a lengthy jam session, replete with a triplet-filled drum solo from Widlowski. On the laid-back side of the collection are the slow-swingin’ “Outdoor Cat” and the saloon piano-driven blues ballad “Ain’t No Woman.”
There’s a consistent rawness in the band’s delivery. The music isn’t not overly polished, and Blake sounds more like a hungover barkeep than a choirboy. The edginess closely resembles the band’s assertive and occasionally booze-loose sound on stage.
“It’s not like we try to go on stage with a wild-and-crazy persona,” Blake says. “Sometimes you’re relaxed, and sometimes you have a few and get kind of nutty. When we were playing High Cotton for a while, things were pretty mild-mannered. Other shows get a little crazy.”
Aside from a few mellow swing/blues tunes, most of the rock and country on Wail and Serenade indeed gets a little crazy. Perhaps it’s an appropriately rowdy debut that can easily be followed with a contrasting set of more refined compositions next year.
“Some of the tunes have a more serious feel,” Blake says. “There’s a lot of newer material that we didn’t put on the album because we had so much older stuff that we wanted to put out first — songs that needed to be put in their place. The latest stuff slightly different, and some are little darker and less comical. We’re always mixing it up a bit.”
Whiskey Diablo performs a CD release show at the West Ashley Home Team BBQ at 9 p.m. on Fri. Oct. 5. Hank Marley and Fiddlin’ Marci open the show. Admission is $5. Visit whiskeydiablo.com for more info.
“The Last Time” from Wail and Serenade:
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