OK to Wonder
Arkansauce had no genre borders in mind when they set out to record their fifth album OK to Wonder. As a rule, says bassist Tom Anderson, the band members write what they like and “it just comes out as it comes out; any sort of genre or descriptor comes afterwards,” he said, adding, “A lot of times labels make things smaller.”
The music on the new album bears evidence of a wide range of influences. Coming from Arkansas, a state known for Ozark fiddlers, a big old-time scene, and such native sons as Johnny Cash and Levon Helm, Arkansauce had discovered their own unique sound—bluegrass or newgrass, infused by New Orleans jazz and funk, as well as country and western.
Ethan Bush, an original band member, has songwriting credits and lead vocals on most of the songs. The first track “Up on the Shelf,” opens with an instrumental run leading to Bush’s vocals, which achieve a tongue-in-cheek tone consistent across the album.
Several songs reflect the influence of time on the road, either touring or in the case of Bush, who spent four years in Louisiana, driving for hours to play with the band with plenty of windshield time for musing and for creativity.
The album is infused with nuggets of wisdom. In “Coldiron,” Bush sings, “If you go looking for trouble out there, baby, trouble may be all you’ll find.”Likewise, in “First Night of the Tour,” he passes along road band wisdom, often ignored:
Everybody knows that you don’t get drunk the very first night on the road.
You’re gonna have a lot of time to kill. It’s the oldest story told.
Consistent through the album is a message of hopefulness despite dark times. Zac Archuleta used his late father-in-law’s CB handle, “Early Bird,” for the title of a song that opens with the particularly memorable lines:
Some days are hard and so are the rest
But I owe it to you to give it my best
In the press materials, Archuleta said when times seemed particularly dark, he wanted to write a song with uplifting message and harmonies. Likewise, “I’ll Be Yours,” another penned by Bush, offers hope and friendship to the underdogs of the world.
While the upbeat, clever lyrics engage the listener, the musicality of this talented quartet could easily carry the album. Bush’s mandolin and Collins’ banjo often open the tracks, but Andersen noted that the band members write most of the parts for their own instruments. He said Collins’ degree in percussion influences “not only his banjo playing in an interesting way, but his songwriting as well,” helping him to pick apart rhythms as the interplay of instruments develop.
“Obviously,” Andersen noted, “everyone’s rhythmically involved.” Collins also composed three of the four instrumentals tracks on the album, including “Bim Batta,” which begins with a simple juxtaposition of instruments as the melody becomes increasingly complex and intertwined. Andersen’s bass provides the heartbeat of the song, pulsing in the background, then filling open spaces in the tune. “Funky Gorilla” also showcases the band’s instrumental versatility, with playful runs evoking old-time melodies.
“How Time Flies,” from which the album title was taken, has drawn comparisons to songs of John Hartford. The lyrics, with a nostalgic look at the past, echo the underlying idea that “It’s okay to wonder” and to “hold on to what you’ve got for now and let time take care of the rest.”
“My Home in Arkansas,” written by Andersen, could be their home state’s answer to Bill Monroe’s Kentucky classics. In this road song heralding a drive across Carolina and Tennessee, he assures himself, “One of these days I’ll be back on my way / For that little darling waiting there for me.”
After wrapping up previous albums in a matter of days, Arkansauce recorded OK to Wonder over more than a year, sometimes coming back to a song they had recorded as they honed them during performance. In the completed project, they wove contrasts of rhythms and tempo, resulting in a narrative and instrumental arc that showcases their versatility and talent.