Off the air

Some time back I was mindlessly watching TV when I heard a song I knew. I couldn't quite place it (an occupational hazard of listening to dozens of new songs every day), but a quick Googler told me that Geico had hired Richmond-based Wrinkle Neck Mules to stand in as a Texas two-step band. This isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, as some of the Mules do, indeed, call Texas home. And "Central Daylight Time" is a nice two-stepper.

Wrinkle Neck Mules
I Never Thought It Would Go This Far
(Lower 40)

Still, I've always associated the Mules with the Appalachian and southern rock sides of their music. But that's probably a mistake. The real strength of this band is its mastery of a breathtakingly-wide swath of American sounds. This new album is just a continuation of the line.

By the way, I'm glad they got paid. Since it's pretty much impossible to make money by selling music--and the Mules don't tour much due to their geographic incompatibilities--the continued existence of this band is a wonder. A wonder that should stand for as long as possible.

As for the new album, it meanders through holler folk, a little western swing, some chunky roots rockin' and then some. There's no advancement of the sounds, just obvious familiarity and skill. And the writing craft is as deft as ever. When I first heard "Mustang Island," it occurred to me that the song would work well were it to be rendered by They Might Be Giants. I've been listening to TMBG a bit more than usual these days, as my newly-minted teenage son discovered them recently, so maybe that's it. But the clever lyrics and instrumental interplay would serve Flansburgh and Linnell well. Be that as it may, it would be incorrect to say that the ragged harmonies and southern rock riffage are merely patina. Nonetheless the bones of these songs cross all genres.

Which is why good music is good music and labeling genres is generally a useless enterprise. Wrinkle Neck Mules simply make good music. This album is as strong as anything I've heard from these boys, and I hope to hear many more. And hey, if they get some more TV work, more power to them. That just means more candy for our ears.

Jon Worley

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