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Album Review: Wilson Banjo Co. “Memory Lane” 

Steve Wilson’s Wilson Banjo Co. isn’t just a purveyor of outstanding custom-built banjos. It’s an ongoing musical concern since 2017 that’s released several first-class bluegrass albums. The latest collection from Wilson and vocalist Sarah Logan entitled Memory Lane is a purist’s dream yet has a thoroughly gripping sound rather than trying to conjure prefabricated retro magic. The ten tracks included on the new opus only reach or break the three-and-a-half minute mark, but the vast preponderance are originals and encompass a gamut of human experiences fair and foul. 

URL: https://wilsonbanjo.com/home

The songwriting never settles for a single mood and rides it for the album’s duration. “Sadie Danced a Hole in Her Stocking” provides a dazzling start for the collection. It’s bluegrass storytelling at its finest with attention lavished on significant details, character, and a sense of place. Crafting material in this vein that echoes the past while keeping one foot planted in the future takes skill, and Wilson and Logan’s interpretative powers bring the performance to life. 

“Tomorrow’s Coming Fast” is an excellent follow-up. Logan maintains a presence with contributing backing vocals. Muscular presence on lead vocals conveys the world-weariness underlying the songwriting. The mandolin and fiddle playing on particular high points on the album’s fourth track “Don’t Forget About Maggie”. This cut strikes an uplifting musical groove thanks to vibrant changes that hold the listener’s attention from beginning to end. 

 The Gavel” has scores of merits that make it an ideal selection for the album’s first single. Logan’s vocals are arguably the track’s crowning achievement; her gifts for evoking emotions through storytelling are nearly unparalleled in modern bluegrass. Jordan Rainer and Lance Carpenter’s songwriting dovetails into the album’s remaining nine songs. The brisk shuffle of “Coalmine” offers another lively performance full of home, hearth, and playful lust in equal measure. It’s a neat song given that there are so many hardscrabble, even despairing, tunes about the life of a coal miner. Logan clearly has a lot of fun with this tune.

 “Memphis Anymore” has a chorus that ranks as one of the album’s best refrains. The low-key dramatic effect of it transforms an already fine song. It’s a musician’s song with details such as finishing a concert and driving away with the money earned that night. However, more than that, it’s a love song, full of retrospective heartache, and one of the best compositions on an album overflowing with artistry. “One Last Goodbye/Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine” pairs the present with the past in a memorable fashion. 

Bluesy strands abound throughout this bluegrass setting, and Wilson Banjo Co.’s grasp of covering the latter Bill Monroe classic shows how deeply indebted to tradition they are – without ever slavishly imitating it. It’s one of the finest achievements on an altogether outstanding release. Wilson Banjo Co.’s Memory Lane deserves attention as one of 2024’s most fully realized releases.

Brent Musgrave


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