Wino, for those of you unfortunate enough not to have come across the name before, is one of the great influential musicians of the hard rock scene. Having been involved in Saint Vitus, The obsessed and, more recently, the astonishingly good Shrinebuilder, the man is a one-off. A living legend whose worshipping of the riff is second to none and whose dedication to stoner rock/doom has produced a body of work which is practically without peer.
However, Wino here is cast adrift from the sonic might of his usual outlets and we find him in something of a contemplative mood and indulging in the sort of tortured acoustic balladry that you would imagine could only be the result of Cat Stevens and Nick Cave jamming together at a BBQ. ‘Adrift’ is a twelve song collection that is utterly without artifice with Wino handling almost everything himself (there’s some help from Ray Tilkens who also mixed the album and Jim ‘Sparky’ Karow who appears on ‘O.B.E’ but that’s your lot) and the result couldn’t be a more satisfying collection of songs that sit comfortably in the tradition of Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the aforementioned Cat Stevens.
Opening with the stunning title track, ‘Adrift’ is a beautiful work from the off and it is immediately remarkable how Wino manages to captivate you heart and soul with only the unadorned sound of his guitar and road-worn voice. It’s an album that draws heavily on the folk traditions with each track telling a story through the intelligently written and perfectly delivered vocals. ‘I don’t care’ strikes a more earthen groove, with an almost bluesy feel to its dark ‘n’ dirty main riff and the bright chords of the chorus, while Wino’s voice is gritty and struck though with integrity. ‘Hold on love’ is also storming with Wino pulling off the impressive feat of taking a simple acoustic and yet still managing to convey the impression of heaviness (a trick previously only noted on Michael Gira’s acoustic demos for the latest Swans album) while the multi-tracked vocals are straight out of ‘Tea for the tillerman’. Bravely Wino also takes on (and wins) Motorhead, covering ‘Iron horse/Born to lose’ and reimagining it as a stark, acoustic gem that is as removed from the original as Manic Street Preachers’ ‘been a son’ was from Nirvana.
One of the album highlights, and a stunningly beautiful song, is ‘Suzanes song’, a baleful, gentle, instrumental piece that is shot through with emotion and tenderness. Equally, ‘DBear’ is a perfect foil, offering up a wonderful vocal and fast strumming which counterpoint the delicate musings of the previous track. Another cover, in the form of ‘shot in the head’ (Savoy brown) appears towards the end of the record with a shot of vitriol and cheap whiskey infusing the words with real bite. Most unusual is the watery follow up of O.B.E which is a strange foray into droning guitar and obscure effects – it’s an exciting experiment and provides a nice bridge into the speedily picked ‘green speed’ which brings the album to a close.
While ‘Adrift’ is a remarkable album on many levels it is clearly not going to satisfy everyone. Just as Black label Society ran into trouble with some fans for ‘hangover music Vol VI’, so purists who cling to images of Wino as being a black-clad, smoke enshrouded riff lord dedicated solely to churning out riffs of doom will find this album too light-weight for their tastes. However, for those who enjoy the prospect of hearing a different side to their heroes, this is a gorgeous album full of light and shade (and it is not nearly so unplugged as you might think – just listen to the blistering solo at the conclusion of ‘green speed’ for proof of that) and despite being exposed, blinking and bloodshot in the light, Wino proves without a doubt that he is the master of his instrument and his craft. This is a joyous celebration of a man whose talents were already beyond dispute – a triumph.