By Melanie Stangl
Hailing from nearby Indiana, PA, four-man acoustic group Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing are gearing up to debut their first full-length record on Saturday, November 19th, commemorating the occasion with a release show the same day at Pittsburgh Winery.
The band consists of Jason Gamble on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Josh Williams on percussion, Nick Adams on upright bass, and Brendon Bassler on lead guitar and backup vocals. Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing has played numerous shows over the last few years across Pennsylvania and the surrounding states, including such Pittsburgh venues as the Winery, James Street Gastropub, Hard Rock Café, and Club Café. They’ve also participated in several Pittsburgh music festivals, along with other local and regional festivals, such as Flood City in Johnstown.
Recorded and mastered by local standby Jay Vega, the new album combines solid instrumentation with honest, contemplative lyrics. Gamble’s voice is an appealing cross between Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson, while Bassler’s lead riffs give that pleasant, classically folk feel. Other instruments appear periodically and add lovely texture: brass sections by Ben Saylor, strings from Alex Price, organ from Chris Vipond, and electric piano from Steve Bassler. The songs are, however, occasionally overambitious. Many last four minutes or longer, and tackle several heavy thoughts and topics in rapid succession, detracting from the potential for poignancy and weight of each one. Though folk music lends itself to a focus on lyricism and storytelling, the moments where Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing shine tend to be in their simpler moments, between cluttered references to “sticks and stones and broken bones” and similar clichés.
Nonetheless, the record is well-balanced between faster and slower songs, and the group’s authenticity and heart is undeniable. Its best track is “Lucky,” in which Gamble ruminates on the stability and fortune in his friends’ lives, and wonders when his musical ambitions will bring him those good things: “And hey man, when are we gonna be made men/So I can write my mom’s last paycheck/She can turn the radio on, say/That’s my baby?” It features a great sense of rhyme, thoughtful lyrics, and a standout electric guitar solo.
In lead guitarist Bessler’s own words, the band prides itself on “the energy that we bring to the stage, and our love of improvisation and willingness to experiment live.” He continues, “The four of us come from very different musical backgrounds, but we’ve managed to blend our individual styles into an eclectic blend that has something for everyone.” Saturday’s release show at the Winery starts at 8:30 PM. Tickets can be found here. You can follow the band on Facebook here.