On their third album since coming together in Edinburgh in 2007, The Wynntown Marshals continue to prove Scotland a fertile breeding ground for guitar chiming alt-country Americana.
Their roots still embedded in the legacies of Wilco, The Jayhawks, Neil Young and Big Star, they get the ball rolling on The End of the Golden Age with There Was A Time, frontman Keith Benzie’s dust-hoarse vocals capturing the song’s notes of wistful, post-break up resignation. Dead Sunflowers continues the theme of marital collapse, albeit with a more uptempo drive to lines about how “feelings get clouded by heartbreak and alcohol”, though Benzie does manage to strike a playful note when he explains that, rather than finding some new faith, he was talking about loving the Gsus chord not Jesus. It’s probably also the only song to include a reference to mesial drift, an orthodontic term about how teeth move towards the lips.
Memories of happier times and thoughts of loss percolate through most of the tracks including the slow, warm horned Being Lazy. Written by bassist Murdoch Macleod, it is one of those ‘I’m not really down, I just like staying in and I don’t miss you’ songs. The Gram Parsons influenced pedal steel streaked Red Clay Hill is a song of loss and longing that references a local landmark and namechecks Ansel Adams. It also features Hannah Elton-Wall from Redlands Palomino Company on harmonies. The uptempo rocking Better Than Yesterday adopts a looking back/moving on theme and puts me in mind of vintage Miracle Legion.
By way of a different lyrical approach, Idaho, which blends Iain Sloan’s pedal steel and Richie Noble’s piano to slow, measured effect, uses imagery about being holed up in an embassy as a metaphor for trying to hold on to what you’ve got.
Elsewhere, there’s romantic nostalgic reflection on the one that got away to be found on the midtempo bittersweet The Girl On The Hill (“we never kissed, I stayed the night one time we held each other for a little while”) while the album’s ringing title track closer opens with loss (“it was St Andrew’s Day, you were leaving”) and moves through healing (“ I used to keep your airmail letters…now they’re gone, I think I threw them out” ) to a sense of optimism for the future with its uplifting chorus of “so look up to the sky, kid, don’t lose your sense of wonder, boy.”
It’s not all about affairs of the heart, though. Metagama, the second of the two Macleod songs, is a firmly Caledonian inspired number about the mass migration of the young men of Stornoway to Canada in April 1924, the song taking its title from the name of the ship on which they sailed. And, striking further nautical and Canadian notes, haunting piano ballad Moby Doll is told from the perspective of a journalist writing the story of how, in 1964, the killer whale of the title (which actually turned out to be male) was captured by harpoon and towed back to Vancouver, Benzie’s line “it’s not right to keep a soul in captivity. Were they misunderstood or were we out of touch? There’s a mean streak hidden in all of us” all the more potent given that the Orca which died of a skin disease 87 days later caused by the condition of the harbor water.
Fuelled by critical acclaim and several prestigious support slots, the band have been gradually building a solid following and with this latest release they look set to build on that success still further as their music reaches a far wider audience beyond Scotland where they are best known.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Blue Rose Records
Order it via Bandcamp