By Duncan Evans
The best music makes you feel something. It communicates something universal and beyond words. You can’t put your finger on it but you know when you find it. This quality can be traced back and found in the output of artists such as Neil Young and Steve Earle, in country music, in old time American folk, and in the traditional music that predates all of that. Artists who operate in this type of way tend not to care too much about the genre they are working in as long as the feeling is right.
I expect that this is true of Scott “Wino” Weinrich, who emanates an attitude and understanding steeped in the qualities I’m referring to. He seems to do whatever he wants to. His personal idiosyncrasies, human spirit, and artistic integrity are right there regardless — his heart remains on his sleeve. Wino not only made invaluable contributions to the inception of doom metal via his former bands including Saint Vitus and The Obsessed, but also worked with Dave Grohl on the Probot project and collaborated with Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till of Neurosis on an album of Townes Van Zandt covers.
On Forever Gone, his third solo album, Wino has created something few can pull off: an acoustic guitar-based album that is equally genuine as a piece of Americana and as part of the “heavy” music canon. This is blues, this is punk rock, this is heavy metal — this is a musical embodiment of the intense highs and pain-laden lows of human experience. Any human being will be able to relate to it if they have lived a little, which Wino undoubtedly has.
The sound is gut-punchingly forceful even when it consists of just a nakedly fragile acoustic guitar and Wino’s rough and soulful voice. The production and musical arrangements are sublime; the use of subtle psychedelic effects, electric guitar solos, backing vocals and occasional “full band” tracks always feels absolutely appropriate to augment the emotional content of the songs. The latter are so strong that they could work in almost any musical vehicle. if Wino tours these completely solo it will still be magnificent.
The opening title track does indeed “paint…a picture” of what is to follow, to paraphrase the first lyric. Wino growls about missing a loved one’s laughter and beauty, but also tells us emphatically that he “must go – forever.” It is catchy, it is raw, and it also has a shoegaze-esque production quality that lifts it into more mystical and ethereal territory.
Through songs such as “Taken,” “The Song’s at The Bottom of The Bottle,” and “No Wrong,” the themes of love, loss, death, pain, and moving on continue to be mused upon. Wino sings of “escaping this Hell” and that sums up the feeling of the record; life is hard but we can find ways to transcend the struggles of existence. On “Dark Ravine” Wino tells us that he is going to “fly over this dark ravine today” and you almost believe that he could grow wings and do it, such is the conviction with which he sings. “You’re So Fine” is a break from the pain and recalls Little Feat’s Lowell George.
It takes a certain confidence and swagger to convincingly pull off this type of 70s-blues-groove ode to the simple pleasures of lust and desire. It’s sometimes harder to sing lines like “you’re so fine / as hot as chilli / you’re so fine / as sweet as strawberry wine” than it is to reflect on pain and suffering. Wino does it with unfaltering class and aplomb. On the wonderfully soulful and uplifting “Was Is Shall Be,” Wino is complemented by backing singer whose name I don’t know but whose sweet and pure voice is like the spiral of syrup on a greasy breakfast. Their voices unify on the chorus and even though I can’t quite hear all the words I smile inside in harmony with their sentiment.
The album ends with bold and somewhat unexpected cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation”. Somehow the arrangement manages to both tap into the British goth-punk rainy weekend atmosphere of the original whilst also adding cowpunk dirt and a sun-soaked desert blues quality. It ups the Joy without diminishing the Division. This shouldn’t work, but it unquestionably does.
Wino is anything but “gone” and Forever Gone proves it. If anything he is more present than ever. Not many artists can both bring together and transcend so many apparently disparate genres with such grace and effortless mastery. Wino’s music is real, and he as real a living legend as you’ll find on the planet. Listen and understand.
Photo and digital review copy courtesy of Purple Sage PR. For more from Alternative Control, find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and bandcamp. Plus, follow our 2020 coverage playlist on Spotify!