The Wolverton Brothers – A Better Place

The Wolverton Brothers
A Better Place

Remember Herb Tarlek, Andy Travis, Bailey Quarters, Les Nessman, Johnny Fever, and Venus Flytrap? I used to love to watch WKRP in Cincinnati in the early 80s when I first moved to the US. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled in fall 1982. This past week, WKRP in Cincinnati instantly entered my mind when I listened to The Wolverton Brothers’ latest album, A Better Place, only because of the “Queen City of the West.” These Cincinnatians have terrific, vivid cover art and disc art for A Better Place. There are even a few captivating, moody concoctions on this loud psychedelic album, but most of the time, A Better Place isn’t as clever, sophisticated, or amusing on record as WKRP in Cincinnati was on TV.

The album opens with live audience hollers and claps on the country rock of “Legends in Their Own Mind.” Beyond the southern chorus, the band’s crunching guitars and heavy drumming give the song an Iron Butterfly feel. “Hay Days” is loud and raucous, with lyrics alternately drawled and rushed. “Sky Trails” recalls The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” with its high, tripping female vocals. The experimentation with instruments in the song is interesting, but the repetitious vocal chants in the background irritate. “Give Me Some Lightning” finds lead singer Tim Schwallie screaming over the microphone as he attempts to swallow it whole. His bandmates accompany his tortured singing with discordant playing reminiscent of late 70s NYC punk.

One of the better tracks on A Better Place is the dark, mysterious instrumental piece, “Wintry Mix (Opus No. 3).” With light guitar reverb and sounds of rain, the music flows unsettlingly, even when the tempo picks up and the drums explode. “Brood X Nymphs” is even more compelling, with its sharp keyboard lines, frightening samples, and subtle guitars. An eclectic sonic companion for a walk in the urban jungle, this short instrumental is the album’s best track. Following the success of the aforementioned lyric-free tracks, “Goodbye Me” is a sexy, sample-heavy instrumental mix of island guitar styles and late 60s psychedelic rock.

The Wolverton Brothers blow this momentum to bits by ending A Better Place with disappointing, forgettable noise-fests like “The Elohist” and “Rock Stupid.” The band’s strength lies in crafting strange, image-laden sound spheres through excellent choices of samples and restrained playing. If The Wolverton Brothers expanded their work in that field and stopped screaming, they could pick up many new fans and more positive reviews.