53 Willys debut album “4 Wheel Low” is nothing but fun from the moment you put it on and slap it into your ears. Brimming with a heady ‘80’s punk vibe,(yes, I can hear some Red Hot Chili Peppers in there) and pulling in touches of 60’s psychedelic guitar, surf rock, sax that sounds like it came straight from The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ, straight ahead rock and roll and even some touches of outlaw country, the album rocks.
Now, putting all those into one set of songs making up an album is always chancy, there’s a distinct risk of sounding like a hot mess, or a band can pull it off and make the mix work and get you shakin’, poppin’ and movin’. 53 Willys pulls off the latter and makes a danceable rock and roll mix work.
The production, mix and engineering are surprisingly polished for a debut album. What makes it all work for me is the sly tongue in cheek sense of fun in songwriting on the album. Opening with Beach Blanket Beer Jacket, a tale about a mythical babe magnet jacket and heading straight into the story of every trucker’s nightmare cop Good Cop-Bad Cop, then later on in the album the story of middle aged, midlife crisis gone horribly wrong, including the biggest nightmare of all, social media wrong, in Babysitter, heading straight into GFY, (which could find itself at home on any Outlaw Country station, and expresses that same sentiment, and is my absolute favorite cut on the album) and ending with an homage to the band’s namesake and legendary workhorse 53 Willys, the band never takes itself too seriously, a rare commodity, but takes the musicianship, the music, and the songs seriously, and has fun with it all.
53 Willys is Todd Wire on drums, Shawn Grose on bass, Phil McFarland on guitars (with all 3 sharing vocal leads), and Dan Silkworth on sax. (Listen to Dan’s sax touches, he’s been studying at the school of Clarence Clemons and Alto Reed). Wire and Grose are an able rhythm section, and can carry songs straight on through, keepin’ on chooglin’ when McFarland takes off on an early Ventures solo, or heads off into ‘60’s psychedlia land with his guitar. Whitey Benson sits in on several tracks helping out on guitar and keys.
Michigan is always hard to pin down. In a state that’s given the world Motown, Del Shannon, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The MC5, Grand Funk and Alice Cooper, there are two definable categories – Great or “it sucks, keep your day job and stay in the garage”. 53 Willys has staked out their claim towards great, and I don’t think it will be long until they’re sharing a stage with Ty Stone, Whitey Morgan and the ‘78’s, Doop and The Inside Outlaws, Rachel Brooke, or Alison Lewis and String of Ponies and staking their claim to their part of the scene. Pick up 4 Wheel Low, put it in, dance.