Guitar-pickin’ martyr Luther Wright is done with rebuilding The Wall, but his bluegrass instrumentality might make him the man of your dreams.
Bluegrass frontman Wright gathers new gang of Wrongs
Sometimes, a band or an artist so successfully or so uniquely covers someone else’s work that the cover song becomes an inherent part of their canon and is identified with them for the length of their career. In Luther Wright’s case, though, it wasn’t just a single song, but an entire album — a double LP, in fact. At the end of the 20th century, the affable former Weeping Tile guitarist made a startling discovery: Pink Floyd’s The Wall was in fact, at its heart, a bluegrass album. Luther Wright and the Wrong’s 2001 thesis, Rebuilding the Wall, conclusively hammered home the point. It was both ambitious and audacious, and it attracted a fair bit of attention.
“We went from obscure to relatively known — we shot up to vaguely recognized,” Wright acknowledges with typical dry humour. “It doesn’t seem to have held me back. Now, it’s one of a bunch of records, but it doesn’t really have a life expectancy, because it was already a cover of an album that was 20 years old. It comes around. It’s rare that we pull out more than a couple of songs. There are so many harmonies and bits and instrumentation parts.”
The radical reworking, a concept album about a concept album, got the thumbs up from both Pink and Floyd (OK, Roger Waters and David Gilmour); Bob Ezrin, the producer of the original Wall, sent Wright an enthusiastic email. Rebuilding the Wall was Wright’s third album and there have been three more since, including last year’s critically acclaimed The Man of Your Dreams, all furthering Wright’s unique style, described by roots authority No Depression as “Tunes that split the difference between irreverence and country’s traditions, a balancing act pulled off with panache.” Wright counters: “I’m very happy being recognized for not being a complete smart-ass.”
For the past five years or so, the Wrongs have become more of a fluid collective. “Once you’re in, you’re never out, so everybody that’s ever played in the band still sort of plays from time to time,” Wright explains while on his way to Guelph, for the first of a 26-show tour. This time out, he’s touring with New York’s Jack Grace Band, which, conveniently, doubles up as the new Wrongs. Wright and the band have been helping to grow each other’s audiences on both sides of the border.
“We’ve been hooked up for a couple of years, booking each other back and forth,” Wright says. “We’re North-Americanizing the indie country roots.”
By the time the bands hit Calgary, they should be hitting their stride, hosting the Ship jam in the afternoon and laying claim to the new Ironwood in the evening. Wright figures they have more than enough tunes to play three sets without repeating themselves — this summer, he plans to head into the studio with The Jack Grace Band and whichever Wrongs are available to record his seventh disc, which will include covers of songs by his friends, like Carolyn Mark, Shuyler Jansen and Hank and Lilly. Still, Wright doesn’t see any high concept in the immediate future
“It was such a specific thing,” he says. “It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s do a concept record!’ It was like, ‘Hey, The Wall’s a bluegrass record, we should do this,’ and then we’re such a bunch of cocky smart-asses, we talked about it and decided to make it a reality. I do like the idea of concept records and I actually consider my last couple albums somewhat conceptual, you know, the concept of heartache.”
Would he ever consider another such mega-project?
“We’re probably too lazy,” he says. “It would have to be pretty inspiring. It’s a lot of work.”