I first saw Wilder Adkins play for a Greyhaven Community show back around 2009. He had a quiet yet sly manner about him, offering anecdotes at every opportune moment. He once managed to include several references to Disney Channel Original Movies in-between songs at a house show, maintaining a solemn face all the while.
Each time I see him perform, I see more and more of his style revealed. He incorporates a particular picking called fingerstyle guitar that is measured and haunting. He is a folk artist through and through with a knack for storytelling lyrics that reference a wide variety of emotions and personal tales.
He has released several independently recorded “lo-fi” albums over the past few years, including Oak and Apple, Nightblooms, Nativity and the live record Live At Eddie’s Attic. Each one has a distinct theme and mood, showcasing individual snapshots of Adkins’ musical ability.
His latest release is a five-song EP called Runaround. For this release, he had an opportunity to take his songs to a Birmingham studio, a new but beneficial experience.
“I won an open-mic contest at Moonlight on the Mountain in Bluff Park and the prize was some studio time at Bud Brown’s Higher Ground Studios,” Adkins told Weld in an interview. “Basically, it was enough studio time to get a few songs done, but not a full album. So I started thinking of some tunes I could do that might not fit in well with what I’d like to do on my next LP, but were still worth recording.”Although there have been several guest musicians on his previous records, Adkins had never assembled an entire band to accompany him. On Runaround, he recruited several local friends to aid him in the project, including Nick Recio on drums, J. Sutton on bass, Joe Devita on lead guitar and Luke Sides on keyboards.
“This was my first time doing full band stuff, but luckily I had some friends who are excellent players and we were able to get a lot done in a few hours,” Adkins said. “We basically recorded this live, which is how a lot of older albums were done. It’s not done that much anymore. Because of that, I think it has a real vintage feel to it.”
The record has a distinct alt-country feel that seems like a natural progression from Adkins’ previous work. The difference is immediately noticeable, beginning with the first track, “Runaround,” featuring a more direct strumming that accents the song. It continues on “One Sure Thing” with Adkins’ voice cutting perfectly through the mix on a song that could find its way on to an early Ryan Adams record.
“When I first started playing I mainly played with a pick, then I just kind of picked up fingerstyle and more and more of my songs were written that way,” Adkins recalled. “So this set of songs is probably the kind of album I would have made 10 years ago if I had had the means to do so. And actually ‘State Fair’ is one of the songs from that era; I wrote it back in 2006.”
The aforementioned “State Fair” is a fantastic middle track, with its steady, upbeat drum groove reminding the listener of a Ferris wheel revolving from verse to chorus, verse to chorus. “Nightingale” goes through a high fidelity reinvention, something that Adkins had wanted to accomplish for a while.
“‘Nightingale’ is one of my favorite songs from Nightblooms, my first album,” Adkins said. “There’s a lot of good songs on there, but the recordings are so lo-fi, I almost feel sorry for them. I think that album would have gotten more attention if I could have afforded to go with a nice studio production, but it still has a lot of fans and I’m pleased with it as a snapshot in time.
“I got the opportunity to play ‘Nightingale’ at a few shows I did with a full band and it’s one of the ones that I thought really sounded good with a nice slow groove behind it, so I wanted to give that song a chance to be heard by a wider audience.”
“The last verse of ‘Nightingale’ is real special to me,” he continued. “‘Stick my toes down in the mud then watch as they wash clean’ – for me it’s a metaphor for a baptism experience cloaked in very natural imagery. I try to imbue my work with nature as much as I can because for me spending time in nature has always been very restorative.”
The record ends with the laid-back and easygoing “Freight Train,” a tune that returns to Adkins’ signature fingerstyle playing, concluding in a way that makes the album feel both innovative and familiar.
To stream Runaround and other releases by Wilder Adkins, visit www.wilderadkins.bandcamp.com.