Chris Wollard continues to grow his catalog seven-inch by seven-inch with this 10-minute-long acoustic EP that accompanied Wollard and guitarist Addison Burns on their Australian tour opening for Tim Barry earlier this year.
Nothing here is drastically different from Wollard & his Ship Thieves' previous acoustic offerings; if you've been coming back to "Reason in my Rhyme", "In the Middle of the Sea" and "Hey B" from their LP, "Together Cross the Happy River" from their split with Drag the River, and "Left to Lose", the B-side to their self-titled seven-inch, then these four songs will reload your drunken-porch-strum gun. They're homemade songs to be sure–just two guitars, some harmonizing, and fills by a few keys and claps.
Wollard and Burns modestly work up the kind of chemistry that sparks Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry collaborations, and Jack Elliot and Derroll Adams. They supplement each other; they feel natural together. Wollard lays it down and Burns deftly weaves his way in and out. And just as the Ship Thieves bounce around some Dinosaur Jr. vibes, their unplugged selves call up some of J Mascis' soft, drifting solo stuff, but do so with way more fun. No surprise that laid-back guitar geniuses can tread some of the same ground.
The first track is a warm, simple ditty (I hate the word "ditty," but the song is one, and I'm not going to hold a terrible word against the song) called "Lil Bitta"–as in, "All I want is you now / All I want is a lil bitta of love from you now / A lil bitta love." It's as basic as a love song can get, unless you want to complicate it by reading "little bit of love" as a mask of "little, bitter love."
"Staring Into Space" comes next. If you stuck a tape recorder out of your car window on any empty stretch of county road on a cool night when you had wanted to get drunk alone in your bed again but decided you better get out of the house for your own good even if it meant you couldn't get that drunk because you had to drive, this song would probably well up out of the asphalt just for you: "And there's nothing on the radio / It'd be nice to hear some zydeco or some little sweet melody that we know / 'Cause when all direction fades and it's hard to find your way / We roam."
Side B includes "Sound of Heartache" which, to me, bridges the gap between the Carter Family and Seal (a bridge long neglected), as well as a cover of Paul Kelly's "Big Fine Girl" thrown in there for the Aussies' pleasure. In their live sets, Wollard and Burns often cover Kelly's "To Her Door", which I think they handle better than this selection. But "Big Fine Girl" is still a lovely cut, and it should inspire listeners to seek out Kelly if they don't know him already. Australia and New Zealand make great country music–not as good as Canada, but still way better than Nashville. Not counting Keith Urban, who might as well be from fucking Nashville.
I would've loved to hear these songs live at those Tim Barry shows.
The vinyl is white and the packaging screen printed. The vinyl etchings say "Lonesome cowboy missing" on Side A and on Side B: "If found, call 970-219-5292"–so that's something to do when you're drunk and feeling braver than average.
This record is wonderful, but honestly, if you don't have the Drag the River split yet, I'd get that one over this in a heartbeat. All of the Ship Thieves' songs are gems, though.
I don't know if Chris Wollard has ever been in a rush in his life, so I wouldn't hold my breath for the next Ship Thieves full-length anytime soon, but look for these guys guesting on Jon Snodgrass' upcoming Tri-State EP from Paper + Plastick.