With a freewheeling lack of inhibition driving every plucked string out of the speakers and into the air around us, Webster’s Wheel make it clear in the opening bars of “Reasons” exactly what they’re all about in the new album Made in Sunshine. One of the more alluring folk releases of 2021 thus far, Made in Sunshine teases us with new era acoustic pleasantries in “Reasons,” a progressive aesthetic in “If You Know,” some retrospective songwriting skill in “Daisy Chain,” and a tightly-wound harmony in “Little Boy Blue,” all the while sounding like more of a live performance than a standard studio LP. Webster’s Wheel are simple, uninterested in the trends of the moment and relentlessly chasing divine melodicism here, and for some of us, that makes their new record unmissable.
“Yet I Let” brings a little taste of the blues into the tracklist only to recoil for “Grapes of Wrath” to take over as the most dominantly harmonious tune in the midsection of Made in Sunshine. “No Thoughts Just Happy” could be a college radio folk hit if given the right markets (i.e. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Denver) to shine in, but truthfully I don’t think any of the material produced for this LP sounds as though it were made solely to score some airplay somewhere in the American underground. There’s just too much heart, and moreover, too much soulfulness in every corner of the music for me to believe that this work was anything other than one of honest commitment to the folk genre.
“Friday Night” essentially continues the dizzying volley first hinted at in “No Thoughts Just Happy,” and when it takes us into the relaxed grip of a neo-blues “Well,” we start to get a feel for how diverse a set of techniques Webster’s Wheel have when they really need ‘em. The virtuosity bleeds into the bones of “Fourteen More” without skipping a beat, and even sets us up for the improve-esque title track in Made in Sunshine perfectly. One has to wonder if it’s this good inside of a studio, just how amazing it might be to experience this duo’s sound from the comfort of an open-air venue like those you find between the Rockies and the west coast, often already occupied by fans of this historical style of music.
An unguarded dual-vocal attack in “A Note” leaves a haunting impression on us before we sink into the final track in Made in Sunshine, the brash and blues-heavy “Zen is When.” In “Zen is When,” we symbolically return to the plain from which we first started our journey into the wild American sunset with Webster’s Wheel, but its melody doesn’t feel like a mere amalgamation of shards left behind from this tracklist at all. Instead, it feels like the epilogue to “A Note” that we deserve after getting entranced by the storytelling and soothing harmonies of the preceding twelve songs. This isn’t a concept album, but I must say Made in Sunshine is a piece you’ll want to hear from beginning to end – if for no other reason than to fully-appreciate its multidimensionality and deeply inspired narrative about America and its most underrated of pastoral artists.