Webb Wilder, Mississippi Moderne
Before there were Kings of Leon, Keys of Black or Whites of Jack in Nashville, there was Webb Wilder.
Rock ’n’ roll, from Nashville. Formed from Mississippi mud, tinged with British mod. Bruised by the blues. Baptized by Buck and Chuck. Psychiatric psycho-rootsy. Sizzling, glistening, uneasy listening. As it has been for three decades, it is now and ever shall be. Webb Wilder.
Mississippi Moderne. Pronounce it however you like, but Webb pronounces it “Moe-durn.” Hybridized and improvised.
“I hate to use the word ‘mature,’” Webb says. And so we shall not.
Born more than 60 years ago in Hattiesburg, Webb Wilder is not mature. He is the last of the full-grown men, and the last of the boarding house people. He is a unique presence among the peasants. He is a force for good, and a friend to animals.
And he has just made an album of uncommon uncommonness, of unusual unusualness.
Mississippi Moderne. Again, pronounce it however you like. The main thing is to listen, and in your listening you shall hear a marvelous encapsulation of things right and righteous, wistful yet wild, strange at times but always strong. Garage rock and bluster blues. Fuzz-tone and fury, and, in many ways, a full and unbroken circle back to the days when Webb Wilder was a boy possessed of the mind of a full-grown man, listening to The Kinks and The Move, an Anglophile in Mississippi.
“It’s a journey, and one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I haven’t grown up,” Webb says. “The good news is, I’m a musician. The bad news is, I’m a musician.”
The journey has taken Wilder from the Magnolia State to Music City, with some hazily important, 1970s gestation time spent in Austin. Mississippi Moderne reflects stops along the way, and suggests future flights.
“Don’t try to tell me I ain’t tough enough/ I’ll be rockin’ ’til the day I die,” he sings in “Rough & Tumble Guy,” written with John Hadley, the sage who crafted “Poolside,” one of the standout tracks on Wilder’s groundbreaking 1986 album It Came From Nashville. That album—which came out on Landslide Records, the same label that is home to Mississippi Moderne—put a spotlight on Nashville as an ecumenical city of song, not merely as Country Music City, USA.
“Back then, your advisers would say, ‘Don’t tell ‘em you’re from Nashville,’” Webb says. “And Bobby Field, (friend and partner in crime) said, ‘No, let’s tell ‘em it came from Nashville.’ I’m so glad we did.”
On Mississippi Moderne, Wilder sings Field’s “I’m Not Just Anybody’s Fool,” and he sings “I Gotta Move,” a song by the Kinks he used to perform with The Drapes, back in Hattiesburg (Field produced that band’s EP). He also delivers “Yard Dog,” a beautiful obscurity that Biloxi garage rock band The One Way Street recorded in 1966. Explorations of Charlie Rich’s “Who Will the Next Fool Be?,” Conway Twitty’s “Lonely Blue Boy,” Frankie Lee Sims’ “Lucy Mae Blues” and Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” are dunked in deep blues, and performed with a crew of cohorts that have been delivering Wilder music for years: interstellar bass man Tom Comet, drum daddy Jimmy Lester, and guitar slingers Bob Williams, Joe V. McMahan and George Bradfute. Wilder wrote “Only a Fool” with the legendary Dan Penn (“The Dark End of the Street,” “Do Right Man”), and he and Hadley reached back to Mississippi roots to pen “Too Much Sugar for a Nickel,” a phrase Webb heard from his mother.
“My mother was from rural Mississippi, and she had a tough time growing up,” he says. “If something was too good to be true, she’d say ‘That’s too much sugar for a nickel.’ Hadley and I wrote that one. The song starts kind of Wilbury-esque and ends up Rolling Stones-ish.”
That’s not to say that Mississippi Moderne is only about looking back. Wilder and Williams spend much of the album weaving future-ready solos and rhythm guitar work, and the singer’s mighty baritone sets every melody in the visceral present.
Once again, it comes from Nashville. But it brings a world of swampadelic, Wilderized wisdom, bluster, and mayhem. It’s Mississippi Moderne, right on time.