Sometimes with music you just get lucky. I found about Lucero when someone left me an anonymous mix CD. Aaron Lee Tasjan was the opener for a show I won free tickets to. Everyone has stories like these, beautiful serendipity that affects your listening for the foreseeable future. This band, The Tumbling Wheels, moved in next door to me. I first heard them play at a party they kindly invited me to, and I was blown away. Fire up the opening song and you’ll see why. This little five piece of musicians based in New Orleans has caught and bottled the lightning that pop folk has been chasing for a decade now. Called The Tumbling Wheels Play The No Counts (after an old name for the band), this album is like a breath of fresh air: twelve tracks that will drag your emotions all over the place and keep your feet tapping at the same time.
Right from the beginning, “Rotten Town” grabs you. The strong harmony, the unique blend of the voices, how quickly it shifts into gear with a chugging rhythm section and cheery lead guitar line. It’s fun to listen to- you’ll find yourself singing along before you know it.
The band lists several inspirations that I confess I don’t know well enough: Bessie Smith, Hoyt Axton, the Smothers Brothers. Several of the songs headed by guitar player Jeffrey Sutton, “Eloise” in particular, remind me of Jimmie Rogers (the pop singer, not the yodeler) tunes. Whether those names mean anything to you or not, you’ll find that there’s a sense of familiarity with the music that the band comes to without imitation.
Lead singer Rachel Wolf’s voice is a study in contradictions. In “Gin House Prodigy” she shows off her range by easily switching between bluesy flourishes and wild, crass wailing. These songs harken back to blues songs that were rife with double entendre and seamy backdrops. But there’s sincerity here as well: the straightforward sentiment of “Stick With Me” and “Tumbling Wheels” will get your heart caught in your throat before the riotous barn-burning of “Oh Shit!”.
The high, clear tones of drummer Joanna Tomassoni provide as many colorful flourishes as her drum set does; the pure notes she sings in the background of “Rotten Town” still give me chills. The song she leads, “Our Blood’s the Same”, is both the quietest and sweetest number on the record. Trading her drums for a guitar, Tomassini weaves a personal tale of how the trials and tribulations of our upbringings can affect our relationships long after we’ve grown up.
James Stram holds down the low end on his upright bass, and guitarist Sam Ottinger merrily weaves his way around the flashiness of the singers. These songs are fun as hell to listen to, and you get the impression from Play The No Counts that they’re fun as hell to play. As Charles Hale would say, move your furniture out of the living room. Put this record on: it’s time to dance. Buy the record on their bandcamp.
As a special treat, check out their bandcamp for a live recording of one of my favorite songs not on the record. “True Fight” is a loving duet between two young women relieved to find someone that they can really and truly beat the hell out of. This was recorded as The Tumbling Wheels opened for much-beloved artists Joey and Kelly Kneiser (of Glossary), and it was a beautiful show in a buddy’s back yard. Give it a listen.
-Gabriel Di Chiara