British bluegrass acts are thin on the ground, but London-based outfit The Wagon Tales have been plying their trade since they were formed in 2007 and came together via encounters with jazz-related musicians. They are the brainchild of double bassist Ben Somers and banjoist Joe Auckland, both of whom double up on vocals. Individually the band members have gained useful experience in a wide range of musical fields and these include performing with the English Chamber Orchestra, Nitin Sawney, Dr John, Dub Colossus and Dizzie Rascal which is a vast panorama of styles.
This new CD of all original compositions captures where the band are at and this means soaking up the influences of some of the all-time greats of the bluegrass world from arguably the creator of the genre, Bill Monroe and the famous Stanley Brothers through to Emmylou Harris who cut some choice bluegrass music in the late seventies and early eighties. A new generation of bluegrass musicians in the US have emerged over the last ten-fifteen years with a major catalyst to activity being the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film ‘O Brother where art thou’ which featured the likes of Alison Krauss and her group Union Station, the folksy hues of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and a host of other names. The Wagon Tales specialise in tight arrangements and close vocal harmonies with all acoustic instrumentation befitting the genre. They excel on the gentler paced songs such as the gently lilting ‘Slowly slowly’ and it is unusual to hear a trumpet featured here, but it certainly blends in well. A folksy ballad, ‘Butterflies’ provides the opportunity for joint lead vocalist Kate Robinson to take centre stage. Instrumentally there is a good deal of promise for the future and plucking banjo and fiddle unite on the excellent ‘Trading water’ and the subtle inclusion of non-traditional elements will surely help the group to forge its own distinctive identity. Close harmonies abound on ‘Carry that load’ with a neat fiddle solo. The Wagon Tales have already performed at a Swedish folk festival as well as Glastonbury and fit neatly into the new folk revival movement that has gained new impetus since the mid-late 1990s.