Like a Whirlwind! Refreshing, quirky and subversive blast from Philadelphia Nügrass duo on the new album, Hard Feelings
Release Date: 13th August 2021
Label: Self release
When an album from a band called Who? What? When? Why? & Werewolves? Drops into your in-tray, you kind of know that anything can happen in the next half-hour. And that’s exactly what I got when I played the new album from… I think I’ll call them Werewolves for the sake of brevity for the rest of this review.
Werewolves are: Andrew Fullerton on vocals, guitar, bass and synth and Matt Orlando banjo vocals and percussion. For their new album, Hard Feelings, they’re augmented for a few numbers by Cerrie Rose on upright bass, Amy Alvey on fiddle and Daniel McGlinchey on mandolin. They describe their musical style as Nügrass which, for anyone lacking in imagination, they further define as an amalgam of progressive bluegrass and indie Americana. So far, so good, but none of those descriptions really prepare the listener for what the album has to offer…
But, before we go into all that, perhaps a little background history is in order. Werewolves emerged from the ashes of Pennsylvania rock outfit, The Tressels, a band formed in 2005 that went through numerous/innumerable line-up changes, always with Fullerton as the band’s beating heart. They made eight albums and folded in 2017. Andrew and Matt had played together, on and off, since their pre-teen days; they could harmonise well together and, when Matt acquired a banjo and decided to learn to play it, the stage was set for their next venture – a folk duo with an unGoogleable name.
As Andrew explains: “People would always tell me in The Tressels, ‘You write such beautiful, thoughtful lyrics, but we can’t ever hear them,’ so it was somewhat motivated by an interest in showcasing the lyrical content a bit more. But, to be honest, we just got tired of carrying so much gear around.” Hard Feelings is the duo’s second album and follows their debut, Greatest Hits, released in 2019.
And if that little story doesn’t arouse your curiosity, I don’t know what will!
Amidst all the fun, subversion and irreverence, however, there is a serious side to Hard Feelings. Andrew Fullerton takes up the story: “…During the pandemic I was laid off, my dad passed away, you just see the world melting down every day. It took a lot of reflecting to realise what was really important to me in my life. I wanted to make sure that that was the anchor for a lot of the songs – telling people that you love them and also having difficult conversations about those feelings. That was a lot of the reflection that came out of just sitting in my house and trying not to die.”
That serious undercurrent is carried over to the album’s artwork as well. The musclebound, half-naked man in the cover illustrationis Andrew’s dad from his days as a bodybuilder, adapted by comic-book artist Steven Arnold – a fitting tribute to a parent whose loss is still, very clearly, deeply felt.
So what about the music? Listening to Hard Feelings is a little like experiencing a whirlwind. The songs are all great fun, there’s a lot of energy and (deliberately) little subtlety. Acoustic guitars are strummed loudly and enthusiastically, Matt’s banjo is picked in a style that merges bluegrass with doo-wop and occasional flashes of psychedelia, the vocals are loud and direct, the harmonies are instinctive and, more or less, right first time, and the lyrics are packed with humour and the unexpected – this is an album that you can hear over and over and find new quirks in the lyrics each time.
By way of example, Quittin’, the album’s raucous opener contains the wonderful line, “Everyone I love is in a little box,” title track Hard feelings includes the couplets “I just feel so silly now, I got my face painted like an owl, and I didn’t plan on crying” and “When I say I love you, you just say ‘ Gonna punch you all day’” and, in the banjo-led Fancy Boy there’s the excellent entreaty “I’m a rotten tooth – pull me out!” And there’s more – lots more – where they come from!
The subject matter of the songs is wide and varied; the fast, furious, Little in Love deals with the trauma of undergoing rehab, Hard Feelings examines the emotions of both parties during the disintegration of a relationship that has run its course and, in Fancy Boy, the narrator takes a critical look at his own masculinity. Deep subjects, brought into manageable perspective by merciless satire.
Hard Feelings is short, sharp and highly expressive. It brightened up my afternoon significantly. If your way of dealing with the ills and frustrations that the world throws in your direction is to fend them off with quirky, sometimes biting humour, Hard Feelings could very well be the album for you.
Watch the Official Video to Hard Feelings, the album’s title track, here: