Just seconds into lead track “Long, Hard Road” on their debut Portrait, Austin, TX-based Wheeler Brothers cast a striking similarity to another Americana-rich “brothers” band (yes, it’s the Avetts). Quirky lyrical sensibility, folksy banjo/acoustic twang, solid vocal harmonies—comparisons are unavoidable. What distinguishes the Wheelers, though, is a healthy dose of tavern-bred rock credibility with an irrepressible, 21st century alt-country edge. Think Kings of Leon-meets-Old 97’s and you’ll be halfway there.
Through 11 fiery roots-inflected cuts, the Brothers bare their songwriting chops with an addictive sense of bravado and cerebral storytelling, like the story of a wayfaring girl struggling to find herself in “Mississippi.” The melancholy “Home For The Holidays” features an almost emo vibe, spiked with trumpet, Texas tremolo guitar and dynamic gang-vocal chorus.
Elsewhere, there are traces of the Strokes in the gently swaying rocker “Focus,” while “Spent Time” sounds like something Johnny Cash may have written had he grown up a card-carrying member of the alternative nation. The band’s wit and musical fearlessness offer a fresh take on SXSW-traveled fare.
Seemingly a bottomless pit of musical vision, Portrait is a debut that shows this band’s melodic wellspring already bubbling over.