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The best kept secret in music


"An Old Classic with Brand New Shocks"

Victrola for Sale is a stark reminder that rock music is alive and kickin' in the twentieth century. The CD introduces original compositions steeped in rock tradition yet seasoned with an inventive approach to alternative rock. Wheelhorse emerged from a network of deep roots whose underground branches absorbed the nutriments of diverse musical influences. The band has been around for ten years -- the current lineup has been together for two years. The music of Wheelhorse refuses to be pigeonholed into any one genre -- textures of alternative, blues, country and rock are melded together like the strike of a blacksmith's hammer. Wheelhorse has proven noteworthy per getting it right -- having refined their artistry before recording the debut.

Their musicianship, vocals and arrangements take on a unique blend of originality. Listening to Victrola for Sale for the first time is like taking a ride in an old classic with brand new shocks -- there's something familiar about it yet the ride is different. I highly recommend taking Wheelhorse for a test drive ... Victrola for Sale hugs the road, corners well and the ride is music to your ears. - Online Music Source

"Louisville Courier Journal: Driving Wheel"


Lexington's Wheelhorse was recently graced by the nearly impossible when its self-released album was favorably reviewed in Rolling Stone. Luck obviously factored into it, but Wheelhorse also makes its own luck.

"Victrola for Sale" is an impressively seamless amalgam of Top 40 rock 'n' roll from the last couple of decades, with a little alt-country thrown in. You got your matchbox twenty hooks, Black Crowes grit, a little Zeppelin stomp, the Counting Crows version of The Band and a hint of Whiskeytown's semi-twang.

That might sound like a mess on paper, but Wheelhorse pulls it off with remarkable ease.
- Jeffrey Puckett

"Huntington Herald Disaptch"

Wheelhorse's debut CD, Victrola for Sale, filled with 10 Joseph Litteral originals, is a polished piece of bluegrass-molten, Southern rock and roll steel.

With guest artists such as Del McCoury Band members Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury and flowing with Chris Stewart's vocal soul, Victrola for Sale is retro, yet refreshing and ripe for radio.
- David Lavender

"Lexington Herald Leader: Vintage All-American"

Contributing Music Writer

Nearly everything surrounding the music of Wheelhorse echoes shades of the past

The rock 'n' roll attitude boasts an organic feel reflective of the early 1970s. Backing it up are accents of country and bluegrass that reach back much further.

Fashioning those elements into a unified sound that balances analog-inspired warmth with modern-day precision took time though—about two years, to be exact. That's how long the Central Kentucky band spent recording its debut album, Victrola for Sale. Though the album has been available in Lexington-area stores since October, Wheelhorse officially celebrates its release with a performance tonight at The Dame. The Frankfort band The Mertons will open.

"There's a commonality that runs through all American music styles—especially bluegrass, blues and rock 'n' roll," said Wheelhorse bassist Matthew Patterson. "They all started out in a similar way, with rock 'n' roll borrowing generously from the other two.

"With us, the overarching influences are country, bluegrass and rock, but everyone has different preferences that are important to them. For me, it's jazz. Trying to get a feel for all that on a record is tough. That's why this project took so long."

The band wasn't alone in trying to capture the warmth and vitality of its favored sounds. A primary ally was Glasgow producer and engineer David Barrick, who has been recording and supporting Lexington-area bands for more than a decade.

"Dave is a great producer, but his real forte is getting these nice, warm vocal and guitar sounds in the studio," Patterson said. "He's got all this great analog equipment and those nice, old tube amps, and he knows how to use them. He knew how to get this kind of vintage sound we were looking for."

Also in Wheelhorse's corner were two new-generation bluegrass champions from the Del McCoury Band: mandolinist Ronnie McCoury and Kentucky-born fiddler Jason Carter. The two added earthy acoustic colors to the tough electric drive of Victrola's standout track, Joyride.

For the band members (Patterson, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Joseph Litteral, his guitarist brother Jason Litteral and vocalist Chris Stewart), it was a chance to musically rub elbows with some of modern bluegrass's most daring pickers. For McCoury and Carter, it was an opportunity to get their hands dirty with electric music.

"We had this vision of a pretty heavy rock song with bluegrass harmonies," Patterson said. "And they were really into it. Ronnie especially was very inquisitive about newer music. He said, 'I've got the bluegrass realm pretty much covered.' But he wanted to be turned on to new rock 'n' roll. He was into just about anything."

Victrola also signals Wheelhorse's willingness and hope to move beyond its Kentucky homebase. With Georgetown drummer Jamie Eads added to the lineup after the album's completion, Patterson said the band is ready for whatever hard work comes its way.

"We all want to push this music to record labels and management companies and take this thing on the road. This is what we want to do for a living. We feel strongly the record is good enough for us to hit the ground running. So hopefully the Dame show will be the kickoff to something big." - Walter Tunis

"Wheelhorse a Real Voice"

I've not heard a local band this strong in 17 years of radio. Everytime I play it for someone it blows them away, and as I scratch this note I'm conceiving a way to get it on our airwaves.

With unbelievably mature lyrics and a world weary voice that evokes the best Chris Whitley, Steve Earle and the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band, this record won't quit you after the first listen. Wheelhorse is a real voice, and a band who've crafted ten amazing songs all suffused with very real yearnings. Each song breathing it's own story, melody and heartache. Do you know how exciting it is to have this kind of talent in your town?" - Dennis Dillon, WKQQ (Clear Channel) Prog. Dir.

"Performer Magazine: A True Study of Popular American Music"

To listen to Wheelhorse is to bare witness to a true study of popular American music. The five man group started out in the early 90's as a blues/rock band. They played the club scene only to fizzle out soon after. At the time, it was widely believed that their break-up would be a permanent hiatus. The group is back together again, but with a different sound. Wheelhorse has introduced bluegrass along with a potent dose of southern rock, gospel, and the blues into their work. Now the Kentucky based group has released their debut album entitled Victrola for Sale, which proves to be an introspective into a life filled with misfortune.

The opening track kicks off with soulful sentiment and blazing guitars in "Plow". The following songs keep your foot taping as lead singer Chris Stewart howls about loneliness and regret (My Name, Two Thousand Dollars). One observation to note is that even though Wheelhorse sounds like a lively rock outfit, the imagery and subject matter of their songs are picked up from the basics of country music. The usual topics are covered, from bad break ups to alcoholism, along with songs about traveling and others rich with religious overtones. This selection of topics makes them more in-depth and a bit tortured, though not mortally so. The whole affair could still be much bleaker, and the quality of the songs keeps the album from dragging down the listener. The band also includes various other country-inspired instruments such as the jazz organ on "Leaving Train" and "Baptist Town" and the fiddle and mandolin on songs like "Joyride".

There is a final sense of hopefulness at the end of Wheelhorse's CD. The final tune, "Beads and Mirrors", has a redeeming though still gritty southern rock melody. We see that these guys hold on to the idea of finding peace despite leading the troubled lifestyle. Perhaps it is the gospel spin in their presentation that really sells them as an artistically accomplished act, but in any case, Wheelhorse deserves praise from their brilliant debut.

- Monica Arrington

"Charleston Daily Mail"

Based in Frankfort, KY, Wheelhorse is one of those groups whose members combine a love for early-‘70s rock with the music - in this case country and bluegrass - they heard growing up. Like a more contemporary Kentucky Headhunters (or Aussie’s The Cruel Sea), "Plow" kicks off the set with a slide guitar-driven rocker with close, soaring harmonies. Like the HH’s, the sound is big and tight - but with the occasional sonic twist (in this case, a faux sitar and a backwards guitar track). But midway through "Loose of the World," you get your first clue that there’s more to the band than just Southern fried rock. With a loping Band-like groove and high, soulful harmonies on the chorus, it stands as one of the disc’s best tracks. Other standouts are "The Water is Wide" and the nearly-seven-minute "Joyride," which expertly skirts the boundaries of a few styles. After an a capella gospel vocal line, the band crashes in with a slow-but-heavy Appalachian groove, helped out by guests mandolinist Ronnie Mcoury and fiddler Jason Carter (from the Del McCoury Band). Guitarist (and songwriter) Joseph Litteral ups the ante with some careening slide licks as the song ends with a vamp that would do the Allmans proud. The acoustic-based tunes ("My Name" and "Two Thousand Dollars") fall in the country-Americana genre and fair well enough but it’s clear from "Leaving Train" and the slow, soulful closer "Beads and Mirrors" that rocking is what the band does best.

Michael Lipton - Michael Lipton

"The Rolling Stone Review"

“Part of alternative country’s big failure was its central identity crisis. Sure, country and rock could successfully marry, but the results were often too twangy for rock purists and too rawk for fans of fiddling. Wheelhorse have found a rare comfortable mix, in no small part due to the fact that the Kentucky five-piece knows it’s a drum-tight rock & roll band at heart. That doesn’t mean that guitarist Joseph Litteral isn’t wont to splash a bit of lap steel or mandolin on a cut. Or that the band didn’t invite bluegrass whizkids Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter to add some country color. Or that the harmonies on "Leaving Train" aren’t tapping into some hillbilly lineage. So embellishments like a steel guitar might add a haunting bit of reverb to "Baptist Town," the bottom end still shuffles with Seventies swagger, a muddy foot always in the blues, where it all starts.”

Andrew Dansby, Rolling Stone
- Rolling Stone

"Daily Independent: Band Combines Old, New, Country, Rock,"

For the local band Wheelhorse, the phrase, "bring something new to the table" means they're bringing a smorgasbord of sound.

Members of Wheelhorse display their talents on instruments you'd expect to hear in a bluegrass/country band, like the banjo, mandolin, and the baritone sounds of the upright bass. But the band says what you're not expecting to hear are wailing riffs from Joseph Litteral's 1971 model Gibson and rock driven beats from Jamie Eads' drum kit.

When you think they couldn't bring any more, they say they'll hit you with some jazz overtones, via Matthew Patterson's Ibanez bass guitar, and have you singing along with Chris Stewart's smooth, blusey voice. With Jason Litteral's "modern sensibility" of the grunge era, Wheelhorse seems to have a hardy helping of musical genres including a little roof-raising gospel.

This hodgepodge of sounds has recently been preserved on Wheelhorse's newly released CD, "Victrola For Sale."

"This project has been completely homegrown," Joe Litteral said. "Our whole shtick is to combine the Appalachian and bluegrass sounds we grew up with and put it into a rock context."

That's just what Joe Litteral and Patterson began working on when they first started jamming together while attending Russell High School in 1989. When the boys took off for Georgetown College, they took their love for music with them and when they were looking for a singer, they remembered Chris Stewart's party trick.

"We discovered Chris' voice at a party when he played the piano and sang Michael McDonald's 'Taking it to the Streets.' He was dead on. Now we've got the best singer within 200 miles," Joe Litteral said.

After a few years of practice, a few semesters getting degrees, a few gigs as a blues cover band and a few changes in bandmates, Wheelhorse was ready to move on to the next level.

According to Patterson, the idea was, "let's make a CD or let's quit."

"It was coming to a point where we were practicing and playing a lot and we really believed in what we were doing," Stewart said. "Everyone was ready to get in the studio."

Wheelhorse chose Barrick Recording in Glasgow to lay down their 10 perfected tracks. The band says the analog equipment and tube amplifiers at the studio gave them the vintage and warm sounds sound they were going for.

Joe Litteral, the band's lead guitarist and songwriter, explained that the name "Wheelhorse" was commandeered from a mandolin used by Kentucky native and the "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe, who has also been a huge musical influence for the band. Other influences are as versatile as the band members themselves and range from Aretha Franklin to Bob Marley to John Coltrane and even new Cuban and Japanese tunes the virtuoso band has been experimenting with.

This "heavy roots rock band" is not making music anymore just "to get girls." They say they do it because they love it and they do it well. According to the band, they've got bluegrass big whigs, Ronnie McCoury and Greenup native Jason Carter in their corner to prove it. The two musicians from the Grammy award-winning Del McCoury Band furnished the song "Joy Ride" with the sounds of the mandolin and fiddle.

But for the band, it's the song "My Name" that has become the most meaningful.

"It's about the death of my grandfather," Joe Litteral explained. "He was a musician and a big musical influence on me to become a musician. The song is a conversation about going through that death with me and my brother, Jason, on guitar and Chris singing it."

It only took one take to record the song, a feat which the band said was near impossible to accomplish.

"It kind of recorded itself," Joe Litteral said.

Wheelhorse members said they feel a sense of responsibility to the music of old and the need to revel in the new. They even had Ashland native and musicologist Andrew Dansby talking about it in the pages of Rolling Stone's online reviews on Monday.

"I think we're bringing new elements to the table. No one has brought the sounds of old school bluegrass, country and blues together to the kind of degree we have," Joe Litteral said. "We're generating a new sound and as an artist, that's the ultimate goal."

Sarah Lynch - Daily Independent

"News 4U Magazine"

Lexington, Kentucky-based Wheelhorse have put together one of the finest independent blues albums I’ve heard in the last year. And the first and easiest way to describe the band’s debut is as a blues album; that’s true up to a point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s because the craftsmanship of the songwriting is far too complex to pigeonhole Victrola for Sale as any one thing.

Leader and main songwriter Joseph Litteral has arranged songs that draw from influences such as swampy Delta groove, hot Memphis blues, gospel, Bluegrass, and high-powered mainstream Southern rock ala Black Crowes and Allman Brothers.

And his lyrics are testifying. On the somewhat plaintive but airy “Eastbound for Nowhere,” he writes, “I am used up as this engine with the pedal to the floor/I am jilted as a new bride/I’m wealthy as a whore.” Then, like he’s been on a cathartic road trip, “I am untied as a god with no one left to call his name/I am waiting on the next bus/I’m waiting on the rain.”

“Loose of the World” shows off Wheelhorse’s blues muscle, complete with The Big Riff. “Joyride” is like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gregg Allman, Flatt & Scruggs and the Soggy Bottom Boys got together with a bottle of bourbon and made an articulate love child.

All told, pretty good stuff.

You can get the CD at www.wheelhorsenet.com, amazon.com, cdstreet.com and cdbaby.com.
- Dylan Gibbs


Victrola for Sale


Feeling a bit camera shy


    It takes 1979 to understand Wheelhorse. Somewhere within the confluence of well-worn Led Zeppelin vinyl and the bluegrass renaissance of the 1970’s, the seed of this band and this sound began to germinate. While many of their suburban peers were off somewhere sitting in front of the Atari and listening to KC and the Sunshine Band on top-40 radio, the Litteral brothers of Eastern Kentucky were knee-deep in Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers and Ralph Stanley. From a family of reformed, rock-and-roll-influenced mountain musicians, they were exposed early on to diverse, quality musical influences. Jimmy Page, Duane Allman and Bob Dylan competed for their musical attentions in equal measure with the fiddling of Chubby Wise and the banjo picking of Earl Scruggs. Now, Joseph Litteral and Jason Litteral make up the two-guitar attack of a band that occupies a new and genuine space in an increasingly bland and commercialized musical landscape. This music doesn’t sound like it could’ve been created on any soundstage in America because it wasn’t. It’s the product of myriad American musical influences, combining a blues power attack with high-lonesome aesthetics. Above all, though, Wheelhorse is a serious rock-and-roll band with a penchant for rich, earthy textures in the studio and white-knuckled jamming on the concert stage.

    Originally formed as a blues-rock outfit in the early 90’s, the band spent its formative years studying the blues from Skip James and Fred McDowell to Muddy Waters and Albert Collins. However, the group soon realized that simply serving a noble genre was no substitute for the staking of original musical territory, and the band eventually fizzled out and went their separate ways. Now they’re back and they’ve mixed up their pitches considerably, their bluegrass and mountain roots having risen back to the surface of their sound. The sound of today’s Wheelhorse is the sound of a band that understands that at the heart of American music there is the song. At the service of the song are go-for-broke playing and honest-to-God joyful noise singing. These are traditions they’re honored to study and proud to serve.

    Chris Stewart can sing the blues like a barn on fire. Also a native of Eastern Kentucky's Cumberland Plateau, he can channel the musical spirits of Bill Monroe and Howlin’ Wolf with equal facility. You simply don’t hear singing with this kind of soulful virtuosity every day. Period.

    Matt Patterson is an agile and melodic bass player. Never content to simply keep a song together, he invariably moves it forward through creative playing informed by the harmonic possibilities of jazz and the kinetic energy of rock and roll. He is a formidable and fully realized musician.

    The band’s debut album, Victrola for Sale, was completed before the band’s newest member, Jamie Eads, joined the group. However, that hasn’t stopped him from leaving an indelible mark on the group’s live dynamic. This Southern Kentucky native brings a ferocious attack to the kit in the finest tradition of rock-and-roll drumming. His unfailing sense of groove and single-minded obsession with actually driving the pocket help push the band’s live sound to frenetic heights.

    Jason Litteral is at once solid and inventive in his approach to rhythm rock and roll guitar playing. Bringing a bluegrasser’s sense of time and drive to bear on a modern rock ensemble, his playing references a lineage stretching from the Lester Flatt G run to the richly overdriven tones of rock and roll’s most interesting riffs and chord structures.

    Joe Litteral is comfortable with the banjo, mandolin and blues harp, but his biggest responsibilities are serving as the band’s lead guitarist and songwriter. Whether it be via Allmanesque electric slide riffs or standard rock and roll virtuosity, his playing achieves what so many pickers lack these days—originality of voice. Having the hard-won good sense to value creativity and tone above all else, he’s still willing and able to mash the pedal through the floorboard if and when the musical situation dictates.

    Wheelhorse’s debut album Victrola for Sale features intelligent, lyrical songwriting that combines the sensibilities of modern rock and roll with the musical underpinnings of the mountain and delta traditions. Pop it in and hear the mud and the clay, the sandstone and the coal dust. Feel the fierce tension of banjo strings and the righteous release of a gospel choir working in concert. Smell those stack amp tubes burn. Hear the tradition in the rock and the ages in the roll without sacrificing what’s important in the here and now.

High Lonesome.

Blues Power.

Wheelhorse . . . Rock On.