Artist: Wild Ponies
Label: No Evil
Release Date: 05/13/2016
Husband and wife duo, Doug and Telisha Wiiliams, take a refined step forward on their second release under the Wild Ponies moniker, following their potential-filled but rather uneven 2013 release, Things That Used to Shine. The refinement is due to better songs, tighter arrangements and the addition of multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, who can smooth out rough edges as well as anyone. Like most strong Americana bands, they cover a wide range from folk, to twang, to a Crazy Horse rock sound. On this record, there’s even a hint of southern gospel. The band is built around the vocal prowess of Telisha, who also plays bass, and Doug’s dexterous guitar picking, gutty vocals—as well as the engaging harmonies of the pair. Together with Kaplan (all varieties of strings and steel) and drummer Megan Jane, it’s often quite remarkable they generate so much sound from just four players.
The album begins with echo-laden, guitar crunch from Doug, over which Telisha sings the anguished “Born with a Broken Heart.” We then take a deep plunge into the eerily quiet, contemplative title track, again featuring Telisha over mournful steel and fiddle from Kaplan. Songwriting credits for “Radiant” also remarkably go to a then 12 year old (now 15) Mariah Moore, who provides the central idea for the song. Doug and Telisha had been serving as mentors in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum‘s Words and Music program, which nurtures school-age songwriters, when they received Moore’s lyrics.
“Tower and Wheel” is a bouncy shuffle featuring background vocalists along with Telisha against Kaplan’s wailing pedal steel guitar. Doug steps forward with vocals on “Mom and Pop,” a brisk, country honky-tonker, complete with twangy guitar. “Unplug the Machine” is rather punk-like and punctuated with power chords. It stands on its own island relative to the other tracks, with its infectious chorus– “unplug it.” “Graveyard Train” is yet another example of the rumbling guitar attack that is one their hallmarks. Doug sings on the final track, an irreverent southern gospel tune, “Love Is Not a Sin.”
There are plenty of talented husband and wife duos in Americana today. Few, if any, are more versatile than the Wild Ponies, who this time around have thankfully retained the rawness that made their previous so appealing, but have also better harnessed range, edginess and song craft.