Reviewing an album which has already spent three weeks at number 1 in the UK country charts feels a bit like being the last person to get to a party that’s already been underway for some time but, feelings of social anxiety aside, it’s better to be late than never.
The Wandering Hearts’ whirlwind rise to the top is already fairly well documented, the foursome supposedly having met almost by chance, before getting ‘discovered’ by their current manager within 26 minutes of uploading their first ever demo to Soundcloud – that recording itself representing only the second time the band had met to rehearse together. All the stars, then, appear to be perfectly aligned for a group who’ve since gone on to sign a major recording deal with Decca Records – alongside which they received further kudos and celebrity endorsement when they won the coveted ‘Bob Harris Emerging Artist’ award at the UK Americana Awards 2018.
So after all the fanfare, what does their debut actually sound like? ‘Rattle’ opens the album and establishes the Wandering Hearts template from the get go: clear as a bell harmonies, allied to an electrifying mixture of slow and quick passages, the songs interspersed with infectious, catchy-as-hell choruses.
Polished to within an inch of its life, it’s genuinely hard to credit that this is only a debut album, the understanding between the four piece being such that you’d think they’d been playing and singing for ages. The alternating vocal styles between the two male (AJ and Tim) and female (Chess and Tara) members of the band make for great sounding contrasts. The PR accompanying the band mentions the similarities between the Wandering Hearts and the pop sensibilities of Fleetwood Mac, but their sound probably bears closer resemblance to the interweaving harmonies of Swedish sisters, First Aid Kit – albeit with added male vocals.
The song ‘Wish I Could’ gets off to a slow start, but has an uplifting chorus, AJ and Tara alternating lead vocal lines effortlessly, the somewhat sad and bittersweet nature of the lyrics rather belying the tune’s upbeat sound. The collision of melody and execution on the song is life affirming, although the subject matter on this track – as with others – verges on the banal. ‘Fire and Water’ has a more frantic, busking style of acoustic guitar playing that wouldn’t be out of place on a Mumford and Sons or KT Tunstall album, while ‘If I Fall’ slows the tempo right down, with the two female singers, Chess and Tara, sharing vocal duties.
‘Devil’ is maybe the best realised of all the tunes on the album: with a relentlessly catchy melody and powerful vocals, it’s a real toe-tapper, that will no doubt appeal hugely to outdoor audiences at festivals this summer. The album also includes a number of more traditional sounding numbers, including the closer, ‘Iona,’ its Hebridean subject matter and folky feel initially giving the impression of something that could feature on ‘The Wicker Man’ soundtrack, before the chorus kicks in with a very modern feel – and yet another opportunity for the group’s incredible four-part harmonising.
Superb production values and vocal performances aside, this record is clearly not for those who are looking for something a bit more gritty with their folk and alt-country. If at times the album runs the risk of sounding over sanitised, it’s worth bearing in mind that the band have been supported by no less than 6 co-writers in putting the record together – the 60 songs in pre-production eventually narrowed down to the 12 which made the final cut on ‘Wild Silence.’
The Wandering Hearts are obviously all highly professional musicians and singers, as well as having the singular advantage of being visually arresting. It’s clear that the effort being put into the band’s promotion indicates how far Decca appear willing to invest in an act they see as having huge breakthrough potential, perhaps following a trajectory similar to that of Mumford and Sons who managed to bridge the divide between folk rock and cross over into the pop mainstream.
Whether this ultimately means the band are able to develop a sufficiently unique sound with the potential for real longevity, rather than being a one album wonder remains to be seen, although for now resistance would appear futile and their immediate success is almost certainly assured.
Debut album of alt-country pop from UK four piece headed for the big time