July 17, 2008


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King Wilkie: Less of the same
The once-bluegrass band has transmogrified
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

The critically acclaimed bluegrass band King Wilkie will play a show at the Stone Church this Thursday, July 17, but they won’t be playing much bluegrass.

The Virginia-based band released Low Country Suite in 2007, produced by Jim Scott, who also produced albums for Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dixie Chicks. It was an Americana piece of work, moving away from their first album, Broke, a traditional and progressive bluegrass live album. Since 2004, the band has slimmed from six members to four, and Reid Burgess, the group’s mandolin player and co-founder, is now the only remaining original member of the band.

There is little information about the new band. Very little on their Web site suggests the band is different than before. In fact, getting a picture of the band proved difficult, since all the promotional pics show members of the old line-up, including the one the Stone Church uses on its Web site. The whole bio on the Stone Church Web site is out of date, but the band has offered little indication of what the new sound will be.

But there will be new sounds. The band is in the process of recording their third album, which most likely won’t be released until next year. The four-piece is a traditional bluegrass line-up of acoustic instruments without drums, but a drummer has recorded tracks for the new album and might join the group next year. The singer and yodeler, Peter Rowan, is recording some tracks with the band as well.

“We’re fully incorporating the new stuff into the live shows,” said guitarist Steve Williams, known as Alabama Steve, who is from, well, Alabama. “If they want to get a sneak peak, they should come to the show.” He came on as the band was touring in support of Low Country Suite, but he had little information to offer why the sextet was transformed into a quartet, other than to say, “The band has undergone a huge personnel change.”

Jay Foote plays bass and Dennis Lichmann plays violin and mandolin along with Lewis and Burgess.

King Wilkie is just one of many bands Lewis plays with. “I play in about five different bands, and I would like to play in more,” he said last week, when he was on tour with King Country Caravan. What he likes best about jamming with King Wilkie, his main endeavor, is “getting to play acoustic music into microphones instead of plugging in,” he said. “It’s oodles better. Most of the time before I played with King Wilkie, I was playing a lot of country with electric guitar. A lot of people don’t like it because it’s problematic for feedback.”

They play their shows as a warm-up to the recording process.

The new album, Lewis said, is “different from any King Wilkie album before … because it has a lot more life and energy.”

King Wilkie
Where: The Stone Church, 5 Granite St., Newmarket
When: Thursday, July 17, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 day of show. 659-6321.