ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 11, 2003
By Steve Newton
Luther Wright & the Wrongs raised a few eyebrows—and tweaked a lot of ears—with Rebuild the Wall, their 2001 country-bluegrass adaptation of Pink Floyd’s epic concept album. On their new CD, Guitar Pickin’ Martyrs, the Canadian roots performers continue to draw attention with left-of-centre ditties like “Broken Fuckin’ Heart”, which won’t be popping up on JRfm’s playlist anytime soon.
But as lead singer, songwriter, and acoustic guitarist Wright explains from his home near Kingston, Ontario, he isn’t concerned about critics labeling him a curiosity. In fact, the notion makes him chuckle.
“After doin’ the entire Wall album, I don’t think I’m ever gonna worry about being a novelty act with one or two songs,” he points out. “But [‘Broken Fuckin’ Heart’] just came out, and it was the genesis of the whole album. I was like, ‘Okay, I wrote this song, now it’s time to tie up this whole broken-heart thing, and then maybe the Wrongs will move on thematically.’ ”
LW & TW previously dealt with the classic country-music themes of loneliness and heartbreak on the 1997 and ’99 CDs Hurtin’ for Certain and Roger’s Waltz.
“It’s a trilogy of hurtin’ songs, of sadness,” Wright explains. “Hurtin’ for Certain was kind of the overview, and Roger’s Waltz was more of like heartache associated with loss and death, and the songwriter tryin’ to find his muse. And Guitar Pickin’ Martyrs is bringin’ it all home. It’s the sort of ‘three-month failed-relationship’ analogy, the ups and downs of romance. I’m a romantic at heart, and it always steers my songwriting for some reason.”
Wright wrote all but two of the 13 songs on Guitar Pickin’ Martyrs, and for good measure tossed in a kick-ass cover of Bill Monroe’s “It’s Mighty Dark to Travel”, with backing vocals by ex-Vancouverite Oh Susanna. The band plans to have documentary filmmaker Ron Mann (Grass, Go Further) shoot its video for the tune.
“Punkgrass is a term people throw around,” Wright says, “but we thought ‘Let’s make a fuckin’ punkgrass song, man!’ Like, you stay true to the singing and the rhythm styles, but then you just have crazy electric guitar, and amped-up hyper banjo, and raging drums. It just seemed so much fun, but ultimately it’s still a Bill Monroe tune, loud and clear.”
If local concertgoers are lucky, “Mighty Dark” will make the setlist when Luther Wright & the Wrongs play the Green Room next Thursday (September 18). But Wright points out that you don’t need to be a hard-core alt-country devotee to join the crowd that night.
“Music being what it is, people just come out for various reasons,” he relates. “It isn’t sort of genre-dedicated anymore. Some people might say, ‘I only go to rap shows’ or whatever, but I think nowadays it’s more like: ‘Hey, you wanna go see a show? There’s like a fire-breather, an alt-country band, and some metal dudes from Ohio.’ And we’re sort of in that world. We do play country festivals and such, but we’re always the oddballs in some ways. There’s new country, and then they might have some old-time bluegrass stuff, and we’re kinda somewhere in the middle.”