The Wooks are a Kentucky quintet continuing the redefinition of bluegrass, a process that has accelerated during this time of acoustic-stringband rediscovery. While they have their own identifiable and appealing approach, The Wooks vividly bring to mind Acoustic Syndicate, the versatile North Carolina group and among the initiators of the current jam-grass movement.
The Wooks similarly have a non-didactic approach to bluegrass, but there are no shortage of influential touchstones along the way: The Band, certainly, maybe Little Feat and The Grateful Dead, especially on bassist Roddy Puckett's interpretation of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence." Original material - "Helechawa" and "The Few (Of Far Less Fortune)" - reveal these shades most noticeably.
New songs from Tyler Childers (the mountainside, ginseng-courting saga "'Seng") and Eric Cummins (the excellent "Union Pacific," evocative of Peter Cooper) are well-chosen. "Tom Ames' Prayer," a quality Steve Earle song, closes the set as a pragmatic, cinematic spectacle.
Lead singer Arthur Hancock has no shortage of Levon Helm in his voice, giving each song legitimacy even when singing lyrics that are a bit trite - "I'm the carrot, she's the bean" appears within "Little Sandy Queen." With notes dancing through each song, it is easy to picture Harry Clark picking along his mandolin's fretboard.
An extended instrumental interlude within "Surface" allows the interplay between C. J. Cain's lead guitar, Clark's mando and banjo player Will Parsons (who plays 5-string on six tracks, with George Wagman handling the balance) to become most apparent. As vital Hancock's vocals are to the entirety of "Glory Bound," the group's collective instrumental vision is as significant. A faultless balance, then.
Produced with an apparently light hand by fellow Kentuckian J. T. Cure, The Wooks' second album builds on the intensity of their first while refining their vision of kicked-up, contemporary bluegrass.