‘400 Bears’ is the self-titled solo project of Paul Wilkinson from the band Mason Porter. Wilkinson describes the album as being guided by the spirits of music his parents introduced him to when he was younger. He states that “Dylan and Grateful Dead — were a gateway into all kinds of stuff.” The songs on ‘400 Bears’ feel exploratory in nature dipping in and out of these frameworks introducing folk and country tones with some songs tipping into the arena of blues music. Wilkinson’s vocal style is influenced by his childhood heroes but is individual enough that it adds to the canon of Americana music.
‘Borderline’ introduces the album with a well-crafted song driven by organ and guitar using well-worn rhythms easing us into the rest of the album. ‘Memories’ sounds like mellow Dire Straits song with light blues guitar gently unfolding sounding like a late-night solo drive. The song creates a mood of contemplation with lines like “am I making memories or are my memories making me?”
‘Holy Place’ is a pedal steel led song where Wilkinson shares his love of the simpler things in life-giving him joy singing about listening on his hi-fi to “Johnny and Folsom Prison, ain’t no thing that I’m missing.” The idea of taking your time to enjoy the ride is echoed in other songs on the album such as in the slow, bluesy ‘Cold Situation’ where he advises “take the long road anywhere you go.”
The remainder of ‘400 Bears’ is a mixture of styles moving from ‘80’s Mercedes‘ a paean to his car “driving all the ladies crazy” to ‘Annie Hall’ which sounds most like Dylan or Lou Reed with the tale being sung/spoken. ‘Good Bear’ is an instrumental putting his guitar to good use creating the feeling of movement similar to a locomotive train. The closer of the album ‘Take this Hammer’ is a 9 minute plus traditional folk song with a spiritual feeling and a long fuzzed-out ending bringing Wilkinson’s first solo album to a close having explored a number of byways of Americana music along the way.