Wreckless Strangers’ When the Sun and a Blue Star Collide is one of the major roots music releases in recent memory. This coming together of a quasi-all-star band of California musicians is so obviously greater than the sum of its individual parts that I wouldn’t blame the musicians and songwriters involved for not hatching this project sooner. Fourteen songs may seem like a big bite for listeners to chew, particularly from a first-time band, but there’s no question the band makes every song count and you’ll be hard-pressed to single out even one song that’s filler.
There’s a smattering of guest musicians present on the album. One of the most important comes with the album opener “Sun State”. Harmonica giant Charlie Musselwhite makes an invaluable contribution with his jagged yowl cutting through the mix. It’s a great duet partner, essentially, for the vocal. Amber Morris rips into the lyrics with a sort of leering authority, twisting the lines anyway she likes, and it’s a ferocious kickoff to the album.
The blues theme in the music remains prominent throughout When the Sun and a Blue Star Collide. “Ain’t No Thing” is another vocal blinder from Morris, but she does rein her voice a little more than the earlier cut. There’s a Joan Osborne-ish quality to her singing; it’s a song with obvious commercial potential as well. Morris gears her voice towards serving a ballad with the piano driven “It Is What It Is”. Lead guitarist David Noble and drummer Mick Hellman contribute backing vocals and occasionally sing lead throughout the album and Noble’s supporting vocals during this song add a further dimension to the song.
“Mudluscious” has fantastic commercial potential. The funk/soul groove guiding this song will be a concert favorite as well, should the band decide to break it out, and it runs the right length for listeners. A crucial part of what makes Wreckless Strangers’ songwriting fly as high it does it the disciplined approach they bring to each track. This discipline allows them to push the envelope as well. “Can’t Recall” upends the comparatively conventional slant of its predecessors for a much more self-conscious approach. It isn’t pretentious, thankfully, and successfully invokes a memorable atmosphere without ever sounding too stagy.
The interplay between Austin de Lone’s piano and Morris’ vocal is the emotional center of “Alexa”. It’s a song that achieves its effects incrementally rather than showing its hand at once and transitions from an outright ballad into something much grander by song’s end. Country, rock, and blues collide during “Raw Deal” and the lyrics, likely an underrated part of the band’s presentation, reaches a high point with this song. There’s a dollop of pedal steel present in the song giving it a classic country vibe that merges well with contrasting keyboard textures. There’s a simmering quality, as well, that holds your attention.
“Let You Go”, the album closer, is an airy near-shuffle with an acoustic foundation. Another of the album’s strong suits, vocal arrangements, leaps to the fore with this curtain closer and the brisk pace of the performance is a shrewd move for album’s end. It’s assertive without ever sound strident and David Noble’s vocal has a light touch appropriate for the song. It isn’t a cliché to say there’s something for everyone over the course of Wreckless Strangers’ When the Sun and a Blue Star Collide. They’ve crafted a real winner here and it’ll remain relevant for as long as people appreciate superlative songwriting.
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