With a respectful nod to the old masters of classic country and a defiant scoff at the purists, Wild Earp & The Free for Alls mix pensive trail songs with jumping rockabilly, spirited bluegrass, rowdy rock, and, occasionally, the dark corners of folk. Tales of heartache, sinful living, and celebration abound in the new album, Dyin’ for Easy Livin’, an infectious 12-song collection served up with a load of wit, wisdom, and a wild streak that keeps you guessing.
With his long, curly, locks, thick handlebar ‘stache, and of course, wide-brimmed cowboy hat, Earp exudes a look that’s far more quintessential Austin than Chicago, where he and the band are based.
“It turned out to feel really organic,” Earp says of the process of making the album, adding that he continues to enjoy the challenge of playing with traditions and classics and pushing them in a direction that uniquely reflects the essence of Wild Earp. “There’s a little country, a little rock, a little swing … a whole lot of whatever,” as Earp describes it, shying away from the oft-used term “Americana.” “Everything we do is at least adjacent to country and western.”
From the first note — or rather, horse’s whinny — of … Easy Livin’’s lead-off track, “Ain’t It a Shame (When Your Horse Goes Lame),” Earp and his band of masterful musicians take the listener on a smile-inducing, toe-tapping romp through barrooms, casinos, fairgrounds, and bedrooms. Throughout, tasty Telecaster licks (courtesy of Jed Taylor, with George Hurden on jaguar), velvety pedal steel (Brian Wilkie, and on the rocking, catchy “Playin’ With House Money,” Robert Daniels), and perfectly-placed piano runs (Sean Hughes) provide an awesome accompaniment to Earp’s vocals, delivered with a knowing wink and a smile that pulls you right into the punch lines. But before you go thinking this is another cheeky, novelty throwback act, know this album is far from one-note. There’s a good balance here, between barroom, three-minute rousers and introspective thinkers. The endearing backing and sometimes-lead vocals of Kiley “Sweet Sassy Molassey” Moore add a nice sweetness to the surly, particularly on the stunner “Two ‘Til Midnight,” written by bassist Charlie Malave.
Of his band, Earp says, “When I was first putting the group together, I thought I’d have a rotating cast of characters, and the ‘free for all’ theme played into that. They all stuck around, though, and that’s contributed to a very cohesive band culture that’s been developed in van rides and green rooms in Chicago and around the continent. Everyone’s got an old school nickname, and we let our personalities come out in everything from original coloring books to radio plays. I get to show off some of the band’s talents with this record in particular, including the photography of our drummer (Alan Maniacek) who took the photos for the cover.”
Much of Dyin’ for Easy Livin’ can be traced to the California Clipper, a venue in Chicago where the band played a monthly residency over the course of four years. “We started off playing Wednesdays and Sundays … I could play some of the more introspective, sound-scape-y cowboy tunes,” he recalls. One of the owners saw the act and insisted that they be moved to weekends. The move to Saturdays upped the ante a bit, Earp started writing more up-tempo songs, and around this same time, the band started touring. In 2018, Wild Earp & The Free for Alls released their first album, a self-titled collection that garnered comparisons to a millennial version of Asleep at the Wheel.
Standout track “Livin’ the Life” seems to serve as a theme song of sorts for Earp and his band (and for most any independent musician, for that matter); with its saloon-y vibe, it has Earp reflecting on everything from the funny misconceptions people tend to make about musicians to the reality of the financial hardships so common amongst artists. Not one to get too bogged down in self-depreciation, Earp brushes off the challenges and ultimately displays an underlying resolve to keep making music regardless of what form success might take.
As Earp sings on closing track “I Wanna Go,” he is ever ready to “break [his] new boots in,” and travel to “somewhere [he’s] not.” The road awaits, and it’s sure to be one hell of a rowdy, fun ride.
“Humorous songs that have a serious point or two to make along the way. It’s the same root as Hank Williams singing about ‘Window Shopping‘ or ‘being a Batchelor until I die.'” – AmericanaUK
“A thrilling ride through an expansive dirty whirl of western, boogie and murderous honky-tonk.” – Glide Magazine
“Solid country music with universal sentiments.” – Americana Highways
Publicist: Frank Keith