Wrenclaw is a relatively new project from singer/guitarist/songwriter Dan Walkner, seen locally on stage both as a solo artist and in Clovis Mann, Crooked Barn and more groups. His new Wrenclaw album, which will be unveiled at an LP release party on Nov. 3, has a homey, laid-back vibe that matches perfectly with the backstory of his making the record with a group of friends and family over a couple days in an Adams County cabin.
"Although that's starting to be kind of cliche from the Bon Iver standpoint, that's what you need to do in Wisconsin if you don't want to blow all your money on recording, and get a recording that's an actual living creature," says Walkner via email.
"I've played with all these guys in a variety of settings. [Bassist Dan] Plourde used to be my roommate and we're in Clovis Mann together. We played with Jake [Miller, percussion] and Nate [Gray, keyboards] in a bigger festival-type band called Dirty Diesel Jack's Epic Bazaar, which was as raucous and over the top as the name implies. I met [drummer Matt] Crane at the blues jam I host at Vintage Brewery and immediately hit it off, and we busked and had a lot of porch jams.
"[It] definitely was a comfortable and organic setting. Of course, having my dad [William Walkner] around for the session was incredible. He's a national treasure and a phenomenal songwriter and bass player."
Also contributing to Wrenclaw on backing vocals are local songwriters Anna Laube and Corey Hart, as well as the recording and mixing skills of Ghost Town Council's Brian Knapp. Says Walkner says Knapp "was pretty instrumental with capturing the 'liveness' of everything. He's doing great work in Madison and is inexplicably flying under the radar."
Everything cohered together to create a set of reflective roots rock with a tinge of country, powered by Walkner's distinctive vocal style and stinging slide guitar (both standard and lap steel on Wrenclaw). The playing and song structures are tight, but not too tight. Walkner describes his preferred style of recording as "rehearsed but Crazy Horse," referencing Neil Young's legendarily garage rock-esque collaborators.
"I gave the guys the material, we got together once or twice and hammered them out at the session," he explains. "I'm not into rehearsing solos because I feel the solo is just a snapshot of that particular performance and will be different every time, so in reality, it doesn't pay to practice it. Just let it flow."
Vinyl fans will be glad to hear that the LP itself lives up to the attention given to the music contained within; it's a beautiful sounding and playing disc, which doesn't always happen in the current climate of rushed and overwhelmed pressing plants. The album was pressed by a relatively new entrant to the LP manufacturing scene, Gotta Groove Records in Cleveland, which purchased and relocated the equipment from Dynamic/Sun in New Jersey.
"Gotta Groove was wonderful to work with," says Walkner. "But more important to the process, Paul Gold at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn, New York, really tied up the loose ends and made this thing sparkle. He's a magician. The masters he created were pristine, and the reproductions from Gotta Groove didn't lose any of the life or fidelity of the actual performances."
Listeners can hear the new album at the release show, getting underway at One Barrel Brewing on Sunday, Nov. 3. "We'll be playing the actual LP record for people, then playing the songs, which will be a cool juxtaposition," says Walkner. And being hosted by a brewer has additional benefits; Walkner says brewer Dan Sherman will roll out a Red IPA for the show. What goes together better than music and beer? (Wrenclaw Records, 2013)