Andrew Wiscombe “Strangest Congregations”
With a vibrant swing to instantly grab our attention, the opening salvo of harmonica-led rhythm in “Jesus Martinez” is quite captivating to anyone with a taste for country music charisma, but as anyone who picks up the new record Strangest Congregations from Andrew Wiscombe will discover, it’s hardly the only prize this stunning album has to share. Strangest Congregations starts off with a patient ballad in “Like a River” that wastes no time in spotlighting the maturity in this singer/songwriter’s style of attack, and with every song that follows its introduction to the LP, we witness yet another layer of artistry unfolding before us. Wiscombe didn’t have much to prove to indie disciples this summer, but nevertheless, he raises the bar for himself substantially with this latest release.
If it’s chilling harmonies that you fancy most, “A Highway Hymn” has got you covered. Similarly to the much more optimistic “Indiana,” “A Highway Hymn” is built atop a foundation of velvety vocals and an acoustic guitar picking that seems to fill up the master mix like a complete orchestra all by itself, and even when it’s accompanied by sensational piano melody in the moving “White Mâché” it doesn’t have a hard time stealing away most of our affections to keep all to itself. Anyone who said the classic singer/songwriter identity was dying clearly never heard of Andrew Wiscombe or his music before, and provided they take a peek at this record, I think they’ll soon be singing a very different tune.
Ideally, a good country ballad is powered by a strong vocal and as few bells and whistles as possible, as we find in “Love Me Complete,” my favorite song from Strangest Congregations. This track isn’t quite the party-starter that the single “Ain’t It a Sideshow” is, but truth be told, there aren’t a lot of songs on this album that are. Most of the material here focuses more on the brooding components of Wiscombe’s sound than it does the ferociousness of his execution (see “Workin’ Man’s Mile” for more), but regardless of what strain of aesthetical experimentation he’s toying with in this tracklist, there’s scarcely a moment where he doesn’t sound and present himself as a musician in full-control of his artistry, and more importantly, his future in this business.
I would have put “You Never Wanna Hold Me in the Day” at the end of Strangest Congregations instead of the powerful “Share the Silverscreen,” but other than this one alteration, there isn’t a thing I would change about this fantastic follow-up to 2018’s A Greene Street Manifesto LP. To put it simply, Andrew Wiscombe shreds through the stereotypes and unleashes one of the most emotionally unvarnished indie country efforts of the summer in this latest album, and if you’ve grown tired of the inconsistencies and artificialities that the Nashville hierarchy have accepted as hot content in the last ten years, I would recommend giving it a listen as soon as it drops this June. Strangest Congregations might not be a conventional country record, but it’s certainly a tough LP to put down once you’ve picked it up for the first time.