By Matt Wickstrom
Whitesburg, Ky. based and internationally touring Appalachian rockers Wayne Graham reached back into their decade old catalogue of music along with giving listeners a taste of songs from projects yet to come during their taped performance for Railbird Sets At The Burl from Lexington, Ky. airing on Friday night via a stream on Visit Lex’s Facebook page (watch below).
The episode was the eight installment of the streaming concert series that has featured Central Kentucky favorites Grayson Jenkins, DeeOhGee, Magnolia Boulevard, Laid Back Country Picker, Luna & The Mountain Jets, The Local Honeys, Mark Charles and Nicholas Jamerson.
Led by brothers Kenny (acoustic guitar, lead vocals) and Hayden Miles (percussion), Appalachia’s version of the Coen brothers have been performing as Wayne Graham since 2010 primarily as a duo, but in 2018 welcomed veteran musicians bassist Chris Justice and electric guitarist Lee Owen—also a frontman for Grateful Dead cover band Born Cross Eyed for 25+ years—into the fold. The additions added a layer of heady Dead riffs into the group’s stylings, mixing in with their already Wilco-esque grooves and the poetic, melancholy songwriting of Kenny Miles, who in addition to his work with the band also engineers and produces music for others artists out of Fat Baby Studios in Whitesburg including Padre Paul Handelman, Laid Back Country Picker and 49 Winchester.
The masked foursome began their abbreviated show from The Burl with a rendition of “New Favorite Song” from the group’s 2016 effort Mexico before moving into a batch of newer material led by “Easy Love” and “What’s Your Excuse,” two songs released in the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latter, Miles sings about how many people in rural Appalachia and the bible belt often vote against their own self interests due to religious societal norms and prejudices, saying “The oil under your nails / Your bible on the shelf / Builds a wall between the rich and you / You’re not afraid to fight / For what you think is right / You’re just confused.” The songwriter later goes on to explain how fighting for change can often feel like an uphill battle, but one worth fighting nonetheless (“Long is the road we travel / we’re bound to changing minds / That tend to come unraveled / All the time”) before eventually succumbing to a feeling of helplessness, proclaiming that “Rome is crumbling in my head / Democracy is dead.”
Following was “Slept Alone,” a cut from the band’s forthcoming album due in November featuring the band’s signature, laid back, Appalachian rock grooves that don’t overpower you but instead hit you in all the right places. “Runnin'”—a song from Less Than Familiar, a 7 inch vinyl release from earlier this year in collaboration with their German-based K&F Records label-mates The Green Apple Sea—and “The Worst Kind Of Weather” from 2012’s Brighter By Now came next with equally soothing arrangements, proving that it’s oftentimes not how loud you play, but the emotion and craft in which you play with that hit the listener the hardest. Wayne Graham have this formula figured out “to a T,” with each song acting as a subtle sucker punch of sorts, getting the listener to not only listen, but think about the message of the music in front of them.
The quartet closed out their performance with four consecutive tracks from 2018’s Joy! including the root-rock of “Wishbone,” the bluesy “White Rose” and cosmic country of “My Tomb” before closing on the album’s opening track “On My Throne,” an adventure of Appalachian psychedelia led by the meaty, fuzzed out guitar licks of Owen playing off of Miles vocals with effortless complexity.
Miles preceded the show’s final song by saying “See you next year” tongue-in-cheek, doing his best to put a comedic spin on the current dark reality facing musicians, who like many other artists have been sidelined for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19. Fans can also support Wayne Graham on Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, you can support small and independent music venues both locally and nationwide by supporting the National Independent Venue Association, a group of nearly 2,000 independent venues across all 50 states whose mission is to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States. Specifically, the group is currently banding together to ask Congress for targeted legislation to help them survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Independent music venues were the first to close and will be the last to re-open amid the shutdowns. With no revenue coming in for months, it’s estimated that 90% of these venues could close in the next handful of months.
Wayne Graham on “Railbird Sets at The Burl” on 8/7/2020
New Favorite Song
What’s Your Excuse
The Worst Kind Of Weather
On My Throne