Wrinkle Neck Mules
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Wrinkle Neck Mules

Richmond, Virginia, United States

Richmond, Virginia, United States
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If you're the type of person who likes to take the time to apply meaning to the utterly meaningless, think about the role of the mule in popular music. There's the wild-eyed Southern Rock Band Gov't Mule, the Tom Waits album "Mule Variations" and the line from Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" - "jewels and binoculars hang from the head of a mule." How do the Wrinkle Neck Mules fit into this equation? If you were to combine the riff-centric guitars of Gov't Mule, the outstanding weirdness of Waits and the Americana of "Blonde on Blonde"-era Dylan, you'd be faced with a sound comparable to this Richmond five-piece. - Richmond Times Dispatch


This is the southern rock album that future southern rock albums will have to live up to. Eschewing standard rock and country cliches, the guys in Wrinkle Neck Mules take their sound back to their Virginia-bred basics. Simple songs and simple sounds are the name of the game, all without polish or pretension. This is country as country gets, period. And Nashville is nowhere in sight.

With a little help from musician friends like Bonnie "Prince" Billy, the Mules slow roast their way through 15 tracks of southern delight and heartbreak. This is an album that could have just as easily crawled out of the woods 40 years ago, a timeless piece of American music, with just the right touch of Southern Gothic. - Mish Mash Magazine


Mules kick ass with excellent debut.
There are many great bands with two principle songwriters; the Go-Betweens had McLennan and Forster, Husker Du, Mould and Hart, and more fitting here Uncle Tupelo with Farrar and Tweedy. Part of the fun of their records was listening out for the songs by each, and seeing who has made the greater impression, Grant McLennan’s unashamed romanticism or Robert Forster’s literary worldliness. Here we have Chase Heard and Andy Stepanian who take it in turns (except on ‘Here But Missing’ & ‘Gold Dust Twin’ where they collaborate) - there’s not much of a stylistic or thematic difference, both are nailed onto classic Americana shapes, Stepanian using Mexican guitars on ‘Whiskey Jars,’ he’s more the Jay Farrar figure, more classical somehow more upright and overtly moral. Heard has a poppier palette; ‘Sunday Special’ has a sound reminiscent of The Long Ryders or Guadalcanal Dairy, a post Paisley Underground take on country. Stepanian’s classicism can also be heard on the mandolin driven ‘Discarded’, Heards’s ‘Big Dipper’
again looser loping along with a wink in its eye - you know it’s trouble but you go with it anyway. The romance of whiskey fuels these songs, the contemplation of existence whilst flat on your back as the most fixed of stars swirl like a milky way. ’17 Miles of Bourbon’ will do that to you, banjo’s speed on like Bo in the General Lee until it is left for dust by the flying mandolin. Stepanian steps up and takes things to another level with ‘Wandering Valley Prelude,’ atmosphere built from half-formed musical phrases, flutters of mandolin and a fog of keyboards before coalescing like an army appearing out of the mist as it segues into ‘Head of Steam’. Finishing with what sounds like backward sitar, found sounds and a looped beat on ‘Gold Dust Twin’, this record covers everything from straight-ahead country rock, bluegrass, alt-country and back again. - Americana UK


This is my first review this year and I would like to state now that these guys have set a really high standard
for the rest to follow! There are thirteen tracks on the album and not a dud amongst them. The whole thing kicks of with No Consolation a cracking country rock number.  What follows then is a mixture of bluegrass, alt.country and a kind of country garage style! This is a five piece band hailing from between Richmond and Charlottesville Virginia.  All the songs are written by either Chase Heard or Andy Stepanian who are the two
main vocalists.

Right , back to the album.  Quite a few of the tracks are drink related Failure Of Liver and 17 Seventeen
Miles Of Bourbon to name but two. But, the pick of the bunch for me are the three closing tracks Wandering
Valley Prelude which segues seamlessly into the fantastically dark and wondrous Head Of Steam. The
whole thing comes to a close with Gold Dust Twin with a moody synthesized intro,quirky effects sitting happily along side hard driven electric guitars, brilliant!

The Mules are as comfortable playing bluegrass as they are full blown alt. country rock.To compare the Mules with others is difficult because they have a unique style of their own but I could hear traces Dillards, Jayhawks, Willard Grant and even a touch of Poco in this record. I have listened to a lot of alt. country over
the last year and I would be hard pushed to find a better album than this. I think the Mules are touring here in the summer and personally I can't wait.  In the meantime I'll just have to wear out the album.

THESE MULES KICK ASS!!! - David Tonberg


The first song of this debut from the Virginia-based Wrinkle Neck Mules plays the way inaugural lines of a
good novel read: you're baited, and then sated just enough to know that you will see this one to the end.
The proficient guitar work and assertively smooth vocal harmonies of the opening track "No Consolation" ensure straightaway that this band can belt out a deft tune. And though you may be tempted, there will be no vaulting ahead-the next 12 originals promise too many pleasant surprises to miss. The Mules plow a lot of field here. Yes, they begin with hardscrabble ground. But by the title track "Minor Enough", country & western churns just beneath the surface and in the soil for sure are the seeds of bluegrass. What makes the difference come harvest time is the Mules' sensibility to sow it all together and get that hardscrabble
ground to yield crops you won't find from other farms. And it makes sense that the album boasts as many distinct songs as it does. Vocalist/guitarist Andy Stepanian songwrites like Cormac McCarthy gone vocal (see "Whiskey Jars"). Lead guitarist and mandolin player Mason Brent plays with the bluegrass band Steam Powered Airplane out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, though at heart he loves metal licks and is a
competent show-off come solo time (particularly with his sharp acoustic tear that punctuates "Discarded,"
a solid honky-tonk number that laments the passing of Nashville). Vocalist/bassist/banjo player Chase
Heard immediately sounds at home in front of the microphone, as evidenced in "Big Dipper," a starry,
reflective ode to moonshiners of old. Drummers Danny Van Clief and Blake Gayle - though a bit restrained
- keep crisp time in the seat. Gayle, when pressed to comment on his performance, had only this to say: "I
may not be the most proficient member of the Mules, but people know that I'm hung like one." At any rate, it is safe to say each Mule approaches his job with Gayle's level of confidence. It shows on the last three tracks - they are the most ambitious of all. "Wandering Valley Prelude" creeps in like a distant coal train lumbering forward in the dead of night. It's eerie. At its boiling point, it releases into the stark "Head of Steam," a resonant funeral hymnal of miners' ghosts. Our encore, the clever "Gold Dust Twin," is a departure from what's come before. And it works. It rocks in its own right. It's a strong promise that the earth beneath the Mules does not remain fallow for long, and they're always thinking about next harvest. - Plan 9 Records


The Wrinkle Neck Mules (what a great name) are five piece band out of Richmond, Virginia, who play a
blend of country music that tips towards rock as well as traditional forms to help manufacture their
distinctive style. There is enough variety here for a whole assortment of music fans, spreading the range
from bluegrass to honky tonk and western swing along the way. Andy Stepanian, Chase Heard, Mason
Brent, Danny Van Clief and Blake Gayle make up the quintet in, according to the sleeve notes at least, a strange mix of three guitarists and two drummers; with Heard doubling up on bass and banjo, Stepanian twinkling the ivories whilst Brent takes main guitar duties and mandolin.

The songs touch on familiar themes of lost love, wild nights, coal miners and moonshiners, but with a healthy witty twist along the way. On some numbers the sound they make comes close to some of the regular altcountry favourites, for instance "Sunday Special" sounds like a Son Volt out take; "Discarded"could be Split Lip Rayfield minus the thousand miles an hour banjo and "Here but Missing" feels like one of the Gourds finest. Taking these comparisons may help to conjure a taste of what is in store for you over thirteen songs and fifty minutes of eclectic frivolity. Opening with the country rock of "No Consolations" the
band introduce themselves with vehemence through an enthusiastic combination of rocking rhythm
section, sturdy twangsome vocals and brisk guitar yielding a dynamic start. "Minor Enough" follows on and
is the first song to encompass a country feel through and through; some stylish banjo and Gourds shaped woolly harmonies accentuate the character of this fine bluegrass inflected number. The charmingly titled "Failure of Liver" is one of those candidly heartbreaking drinking songs, as is the track that follows "Whiskey Jars". Alcohol features again on "17 Miles of Bourbon" later in the set, but this time with a lively stomping
bluegrass feel. The sets only instrumental "Wandering Valley Prelude" which drifts into "Head of Steam" is an astonishingly atmospheric combination piece that really catches the attention and despite the myriad of flavoursome songs that compete with it, the amalgamation of these two is probably the highlight of this
impressive set. "Gold Dust Twin" has, from what I can recall at least, the only occurrence of a backwards
guitar intro and hip hop rhythm that I have heard in altcountry. Itís not as bad as that picture may sound- in
fact this rock stained track is another of the highlights of the set and a great way to reach a finale.

This is an excellent album, along the way you get to hear songs that will make you laugh and smile, and
even squeeze a tear into your beer. I can imagine this band on a back porch on a summers evening
whooping it up with the beer flowing and barbeque sizzling; a real treat, good music and good company.
The production is just right, the band sound in perfect unity, and they all play with consummate skill. the
confidence that is displayed gives the album the buoyant dynamic that makes it work so very well even
when the themes become darker. If you have a preference for bluegrass rock or the more eclectic sounds
of bands like the Gourds then Minor enough will sit well in your company, a splendid album and a band to
watch for the future.

Doug Floyd - www.altcountrytab.com (UK) - www.altcountrytab.com


From Richmond, Virginia, and currently zigzagging Britain (Newcastle to Inverness via Leeds anyone?) the
Wrinkle Neck Mules are very much the real deal when it comes to smuggling in contemporary alt/country,
as their current LP 'Minor Enough', from where much of tonight's material is gleamed, will testify. Stand-in
Bassist Ken Simons has been with the band for a little less than a week, but you'd hardly notice as he and
drummer Blake Gayle (on a stripped down three piece kit) hold the beats for twin Teles framing the
alternating vocal leads of Andy Stepanian, (mostly acoustic) and Chase Heard, with harmonies from
Mason Brent (Mandolinista!). CD Opener 'No Consolation' quickly warms the, rather exclusively populated,
room and, as Chase's Bluegrass banjo jumps into the second song '17 Miles of Bourbon', the boys
exclaim 'We're not from round here'.

No shit.

I agree, without resorting to gross ideo-typical assumptions, with my colleague at the back of the room who
states that, seemingly, American musicianship, and especially that present here tonight, is a good head
and shoulders over that of UK comparisons. Discuss? Simple Kid will never match Beck, and Gomez (for
example), for all their lo-fi pretension, are, here, similarly reduced to mere, mimetic, tributes to the middle-
American muse they aspire to. Just because you're wearing the right hats don't mean it fits.

These players have learnt their craft well. Maybe it's the competition (or maybe that crap musicians just
don't make this side of the Atlantic much). But, of course, it's also the nature of the style they adopt.
Bluegrass may be as simply structured as any other form, but the scope for its execution is vast - with fast
precise picking often (as on 'Discarded') gloriously syncopated out of time, as wonderfully musically
dissonant as any 303 notch filter. The Harmonies are rich and soulful. Simple.

Anyone who followed the BBC2 Lost Highway series will have caught on the rich history of American Folk
and Country Music, evolving from the diasporic cultures of European and African émigrés, peasants and
slaves alike. The re-interpretation and evolution of Country has often been despite of, or directly as
antithetical opposition to, its conservative powerbase. The UK has no such equivalent, as despite the
laudable contemporary re-discovery of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. Ewan McColl's collection of Scottish
folk songs comes close, inspiring the Folk Punk movement of the eighties (The Pogues, The Men They
Couldn't Hang, even The Levellers and The Proclaimers) but seemingly folk-rock has receded into the
margins of Ceilidhs, barn-dances and Beth Orton records. Oh, and Dido of course. In comparison, the
cross-over into cool pop/rock (by Mr Adams and even the Kings of Leon) of US Country music further
exemplifies the rich vein to be mined beneath the sturdy foundations and damn sexiness of ever-so-
slightly-scary American boys with note-bending Fender guitars... (That's Kay Mellor again, I'm thinking).

Regardless of theoretical debate, The Mules play fast, tight, expressively and above all modestly, with
harmonies and instrument swapping and shared vocal duties radiating a rich vowelled, conversational
warmth, the sharing of basic intimacies (come-downs and loss), stories of Mexican Snow and late night
drinking ('Whiskey Jars') and a welcome feeling of camaraderie that avoids any connotations of 'Good ol'
Boys' cheese. The pop sensibilities of 'Gold Dust Twin' and the rather beautiful title track 'Minor Enough' (an
MP3 on their web-site) are augmented with breaks to introduce David 'If that ain't country you can kiss my
ass' Allen Coe's 'Gone so Long'.

A deserved Encore of 'Dust of Saturday' and 'Put your guitar where your mouth is' rounds off the set;
Seventeen Songs and an hour and a half after they took to the stage, The Mules pack up and come to the
bar for a beer, singing the praises of last nights support band 'Ambrose Tomkins'.

Whilst tonight's audience was thin on the ground, you know damn well they'll raise the roof in Scotland. We
wish them luck and touch our glasses together. Sláinte!

Review written by: Annalee Call
- Leeds Music Scene


Minor Enough is the 2003 debut album of The Wrinkle Neck Mules and, although I am coming to it quite late on, it is still as vibrant and vital in the latter part of 2005. Opening with No Consolation the Mules take us through 13 originals with great gusto. No Consolation is classy new country rock and sets out the Mules stall and shows what good musicians they are. The title track has vibes of another of my favourite bands, Frog Holler, and is alt.country at its best. Failure Of Liver has as its theme the classic country subject of too much alcohol and lost love. As a Scotsman I have to comment that Whiskey Jars is spelled the Irish way,
but it does not deflect from the fact that it is a wonderful song laden with folk & Celtic influences and it
carries on the drinking theme that pervades the album.

Sunday Special is more of their gentle alt.country but they launch into one on Discarded which is a Celtic influenced stormer. This shows that they are comfortable with each other and Chase Heard and Andy
Stepanian produce some excellent harmonies. The short and snappy Here But Missing carries a
sentiment that all of us feel every now and then (especially on a Monday morning) and has more of their wonderful harmonies. Along with the opener, Big Dipper is one of the more accessible tracks and it's about what? You've guessed it, drink, and more specifically, moonshiners. They show that they can do traditional as well on the bluegrass 17 Miles Of Bourbon. This tale of an explosion in the Wild Turkey distillery is
sheer class.

There's more drink references in Pale Colored Hue which is Americana personified before they go all arty
on the strange Wandering Valley Prelude. They can be forgiven for this as it leads into the wonderful Head
Of Steam, which is an epic Americana tale. The album finishes with Gold Dust Twin with its reverse playing opening sounding like a cross between bagpipes and sitar. It then goes off into contemporary sounding
country rock that would not disgrace any radio playlist. This album has originality and great vocal
harmonies from Chase and Stepanian. I couldn't really ask for much more.
- NetRhythmsUK


Discography

2003- Minor Enough (full-length self-release)
2003- Miles of Music Free Sounds Sampler (song "Minor Enough")
2004 - Dusty Records Rockin at the Barn Vol. 3 (song "Liza")
2004 - Catamount Records HUAC Vol. 3 (song "Gold Dust Twin")
2005 - Liza EP
2005 - Richmond Roots Revival One Year Anniversary Compilation
2006 - Pull the Brake (Shut Eye Records)
2006 - Paste Magazine Free Sampler (April)
2007 - The Wicks Have Met (Lower 40 Records)
2008 - Uncut Magazine - Rock N Roll in the Spirit of the Faces

Photos

Bio

What the hell is a Wrinkle Neck Mule? A sophomoric phallic reference? Too easy. A pack animal used in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico to transport opium to America in the early 1900’s? History channel worthy, but wrong. A band of five (or four, depending on the wind) from Richmond, Virginia carrying indie-rockish country music about the land? Eureka. Daily double.
Born somewhere on I-64 between Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia in late 1999, the Wrinkle Neck Mules blend guitars, banjos, mandolins, pedal steel guitars, organs, kitchen sinks, drums and bass together with bluegrass-inspired harmony vocals to distill what The Independent of Raleigh, NC called a “righteous Americana mishmash”. The blend drinks differently from song to song. Sometimes haunting and tense; sometimes tangy with tongue firmly to cheek.
Their first record, Minor Enough, was released in 2003. It was a self-recorded and produced affair with 13 songs touching on themes like whiskey factory disasters, sterno abuse, fallen moonshiners, untimely exits, and late night discord. The disc garnered the band some nice attention in the whole alt.country-Americana-blah-blah-blah world. Emails started coming from folks in California saying they “loved it”. Writers in England called them “a band to watch for the future”. And DJs in the Netherlands dubbed Minor Enough “damn good”.
Riding these successes, the Mules took to the streets fulltime in 2004 playing heavily on the East Coast, but taking the show as far away as Inverness, Scotland and playing famous festivals like Milwaukee’s Summerfest and South Florida’s Langerado. Along the way, they played with folks like Sam Bush, James McMurtry, Cracker, the Hackensaw Boys, Texas-country legend Johnny Bush, The Silos, Kevn Kinney, Mofro, Donovan Frankenreiter, Ratt (thats right!) and more.
In 2005, with all still mostly intact, the band released a 6-song EP entitled Liza and headed to Haunted Hollow Studio with producer Chris Kress (Dave Matthews Band) to record a follow up to Minor Enough. The new disc, entitled Pull the Brake, takes the Mule-sound a few steps further but stays on the quirky path set by Minor Enough. Pull the Brake contains a collaboration with indie-idol Bonnie "Prince" Billy and is slated for release on ShutEye Records on March 7, 2006.
Viva Los Mules...

Booking Contact:
Tammy Brackett
Moonstruck Promotions
Richmond VA
Office: 804.365.8222
Cell:843.452.3540
www.moonstruckpromotions.com
tammy@moonstruckpromotions.com

Press contact:
Kerry Gibson
Lower 40 Records
Suite 700 • The Flatiron Building
84 Peachtree Street • Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: 678-986-4983
kerry@lower40records.com

Band and other contact:
info@wrinkleneckmules.com