Gritty roots to atmospheric melodies and harmonies.
It should be no surprise if the haunting tones that characterise The Wanted’s third album, ‘Strange Flight’, bring to mind The Cowboy Junkies. Both groups trace their lineage to the Toronto folk and roots scene and both are formed around a core trio but what seals that connection is Michael Timmins’ production. His ethereal trademark sound comes across intensely, not to recreate his own band but to add a further layer to what is a collection of The Wanted’s live set.
The core of The Wanted is Natalie Rogers, Jeff Rogers and Richard Henderson, all vocalists, respectively on guitars and lap steel. They play a blend of folk, blues, country and rock that tips their collective hat respectfully to the traditions of roots music while they are not afraid to experiment with more contemporary themes. Natalie sums up their sound as a “distillation…a little aged with a smoky finish”.
Their writing combines both traditional folk storytelling and songs based more on imagery and symbolism. ‘Stand Up’ is a story about justice. Inspired by Tara Westwood’s book ‘Educated’ about a daughter’s escape from an oppressive fundamentalist upbringing, The Wanted tell of a woman freeing herself from an abusive relationship. The tempo has a menacing, bluesy vibe that powers Natalie’s anguished vocals. “Oh power’s not a gift bestowed, or given upon demand/ We must take what we are owed, it’s time to Stand Up to your man”.
The title track tells of Natalie’s strange dream about a boy she knew who had committed suicide rather than reveal the abuse he had endured. The cinematic reverb weaves in and out of this harrowing story as Natalie’s voice rises to a cry of desperation. Though a standout mix of the traditional and modern, in the end the message is clear. You cannot change the past.
A strong blues rhythm and guitar hook feature on both ‘Fire and Gasoline’ and ‘I Guess’, each lifting imagery from the past to illustrate a contemporary context. “Black Plague” is easy to place but perhaps more cryptic is “God told Noah, you know what I mean/Next time it’s fire and gasoline”. Richard’s rockabilly briskly drives ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’. Continuing the theme of being on the move Natalie sings with a fatigue to match the title of ‘Weary Town Blues’, another rich blend of folk with strong blues undercurrents.
The two covers underscore The Wanted’s roots. Their version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ matches the plaintive timbre of Rhiannon Giddens. ‘Way Down in The Hole’ adds a modern lustre to the Tom Waits original.
In ‘Strange Flight’ The Wanted weave an impressive array of roots threads throughout which the overriding impression is their atmospheric melodies and harmonies.