Summer, like every season, has a very unique soundtrack that makes it particularly special for music fans, and in the case of Andrew Wiscombe’s new album Strangest Congregations, it’s coming to us in the colors red, white and blue. Strangest Congregations’ best songs, like “Workin’ Man’s Mile,” “Like a River,” “Indiana,” “Ain’t It a Sideshow” and “Share the Silverscreen,” are bound by the elemental indebtedness to Americana and alternative country’s folkier side, and though none of these compositions would seem like the easiest for critics to categorize, I found all of them to be as accessible and cohesive in this tracklist. Andrew Wiscombe is the genuine article, and in his latest release, he goes out of his way to preserve not only his own authenticity, but that of the country genre he’s dedicated so much of his life to.
The first half of Strangest Congregations is a little more folk-influenced than the seconds is, and while it isn’t progressive in structure by any means, I think the content here was conceived with the intention of demonstrating just how much duality Wiscombe has as a songwriter. Tracks like “White Mâché” and “Share the Silverscreen” rely on a formulaic relationship between the verses and the harmonies, which is in-sync with a traditional Nashville sound, while “Jesus Martinez” and “Love Me Complete” flirt with Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan, exuding as much retrospection and angst and they do a bittersweet sense of bucolic balladry. It isn’t often that we can find all of these emotions inside of the same album, let alone on a record talked about by the country music underground as this one is right now.
The string play in the haunting “A Highway Hymn,” lead single “Ain’t It a Sideshow” and softly rhythmic “Indiana” is utterly spellbinding from start to finish, and personally, I think it expresses more to the audience than all of the words on this LP stacked together do. This isn’t to say Andrew Wiscombe is falling sort in the poetry department in Strangest Congregations – far from it – but more to recognize just how powerful an instrumental piece he put together in all ten of the songs here. He’s showing us just how possible multilayered country music swing is in 2020, despite what some in the establishment might want you to believe.
If you’ve never heard his work prior to now, I would recommend you start with Strangest Congregations when making your musical acquaintance with Andrew Wiscombe this summer. Due out this coming June, Strangest Congregations has the potential to become one of the biggest alternative country records out of the underground this year, and if it’s chief single – the twang-laden “Ain’t It a Sideshow” – can find a home for itself on either college or indie country radio between now and its parent album’s arrival, I don’t think it would be a stretch to expect some mainstream exposure for the rest of the tracklist as well. Wiscombe scores a slam dunk with his latest release, and I doubt I’ll be the only critic to tell you so.
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