Short but surreally sweet from Philly nu-grass duo.
In recent years bluegrass has spread its wings, and found renewed vigour in drawing on wider influences including jazz, folk and roots music, often described as nu-grass or newgrass. Guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin remain at the core of the genre, and all are to be found on Philly-based nu-grass duo Who? What? When? Why? & Werewolves?’s new release ‘Hard Feelings‘. However, its seven tracks take us to a new and unexpected place with lyrics laced with surreal flavours, reminiscent of Syd Barrett, and the self-deprecating humour of Loudon Wainwright III.
The duo comprises Andrew Fullerton (Vocals, Guitar) and Matt Orlando (Vocals, Banjo), joined on the album by Cerrie Rose on upright bass on ‘Quittin’, ‘Hard Feelings’, ‘Made Things Weird’ and ‘It All Falls On Me’, Amy Alvey on fiddle on ‘Quittin’ and Daniel McGlinchey on mandolin on ‘Hard Feelings’. Both previously part of Pennsylvania rock band The Tressels, the shift of genre was motivated in part by a desire to have their songs lyrical content shine through, and here the duo succeed.
Opening track ‘Quittin’ is a spirited plea to be forgiven, but with plenty to apologise for, as the duo sing “I only sleep 3 hours every night/ Each night I’m awakened by a blinding light/ I went to LA, took some MDMA, rode a scooter to Santa Monica …Didn’t mean to hurt you with all the things I said/ Destroyed all the furniture/ It won’t happen again“. Guitar and banjo are to the fore, with a memorable melody line leading the banjo instrumental, and fiddle adding to the nu-grass feel.
Acoustic guitar-driven ‘Little in Love‘ tells how an ability to charm with songs of love doesn’t necessarily translate into real-life “I don’t know how to dance at weddings/ Don’t know how to have fun/ I don’t know how to show my heart to anyone/ But I can stand up in front of strangers/ And talk about love/ Quiet moments with beautiful humans/ Sometimes it ain’t enough”.
‘Make Things Weird’ blends those bluegrass roots with indy pop stylings, with Barrett-esque leanings in the lyrics “I saw you dressed as a mermaid/ In a parade in Provincetown/ I always had something to tell you/ No use in saying it now/ You got a postcard from where you were/ I got a crippling albatross”, and a rousing counter melody.
On ‘Death Wish‘ dark lyrics make for an interesting contrast with the jaunty guitar over synth, the duo singing “I can’t beat up your dad/ Though I wanted to that night/ He made you sad/ But I’ve never won a fight”.
An enjoyable blend of traditional nu-grass instrumentation with finely crafted lyrics.