Pure Americana – made in Berlin by an Australian!
‘Wicked Wonder’ is Michael Brinkworth’s second album, following on from 2017’s ‘Somewhere To Run From’. It’s pure Americana featuring acoustic guitars, pedal steel, piano and harmonica – lots of harmonica. At times Brinkworth sounds like Wilco-era Jeff Tweedy mixed in with The Band and some delicious harmonies that at times have a touch of America (the band not the country) mixed in. There are songs about love, the road, other musicians, heartache, and relationships – typical of the genre. However, the twist here is that Brinkworth is an Australian, and the album was recorded in Berlin with German musicians – not the circumstances you’d expect from an album that is suffused with the feel of Nashville or Muscle Shoals.
The album starts with the folky, almost poppy ‘Thick Skin’ with some superb harmonies and excellent harmonica playing from Brinkworth. That’s followed by ‘Good Old Feeling’ which may or not be Brinkworth’s homage to The Band overlayed with Fritjof Brandt’s excellent pedal steel. The third track ‘One More Time (Just For Fun)’ (featuring Brandt heavily again) along with harmonica and horns. After that comes a couple of ballads, the very gently ‘Liguria’ and the deeply melancholic ‘The Pub Singers Lament’. ‘Force Of Nature’breaks the sequence of slower songs before the album slows down again with ‘King Of Indecision’. This is a bit of an oddity with Brinkworth at his most Tweedy-like. However, just after halfway through the track, a long-sustained chord starts in the background building up (almost sounds like strings but none are listed in the credits). It then gets a little discordant and strange gong-like sounds, crashing cymbals and off-beat drums take the track to a sudden end. Maybe this is the Berlin influence?
After the shock of ‘King Of Indifference’, the last four tracks are the jaunty ‘Sunday Shoes’ which has echoes of ‘Workingman’s Dead’ era Grateful Dead, a couple of gentle ballads in ‘Falling In Love With A Broken Heart’ and ‘Foolin’ Around’ before ending with the ragged- voiced, one take ‘The Path’.
Recorded just before Covid struck at The Famous Gold Watch Studios and produced by Brinkworth, Brandt and Tim Granbacka who between them play most of the instruments aided and abetted by the rest of the band, Hal Strewe on bass, Stefan Bregenzer on drums and Frank Desant on trombone along with a number of guest musicians on various instruments, ‘Wicked Wonder’ is a decent album but not a great one. The songs are interesting but too many folorn ballads drag the overall tone down and having ‘The Path’ as the last track, won’t leave you feeling full of the joys of spring as Brinkworth sings: ‘And so I walk the longest path….it was the only one I had’ and a solo piano along with Brinkworth’s rasping vocal fades into a hole in the bowels of Berlin and the listener with him.