In “No Thoughts Just Happy,” one of the more progressively-structured tracks on the new record Made in Sunshine by Webster’s Wheel, lyrics are but one avenue this folk duo will utilize in expressing their emotions. Between the rhythm of the strings and the design of the verses, there’s a feeling of complete bucolic satisfaction on the other side of every word here, and although the same could likely be said for a number of other songs in the folk universe, you won’t find nearly as many to occupy the same tracklist in 2021 as you will in Made in Sunshine.
There’s a fair amount of contrast and chemistry to the interplay we get between the feminine and masculine vocals in this record, and in songs like “Daisy Chain” and “Fourteen More,” there’s enough of both to get us feeling as though we’re taking in a balladic battle between two troubadours. Anyone who loves old fashioned folk songwriting will tell you that this kind of material was always meant to be performed by at least two or more people, but it’s only when we get the quality execution we find in tracks like “Well” or “Yet I Let” that we’re able to really appreciate the truth to this statement.
The string play gets a lot of the spotlight in this LP, but I wouldn’t say it’s not another agent of efficiency (much like the very way it’s being arranged in “Grapes of Wrath,” “Little Boy Blue” and “If You Know”). Excess never becomes a problem for Webster’s Wheel in their work here — I think it appears they’re going above and beyond to keep it out of the equation entirely. It’s a break from the surreal elements of their contemporaries in the UK northern United States, but nonetheless an act of nonconformity I would encourage as a critic.
Despite the seemingly indulgent size of this LP — with no less than a dozen and one single-style songs in its tracklist — Made in Sunshine has a surprisingly nimble flow that engages us with unpredictable pleasures both tonal and poetic alike. Rarely is it that Webster’s Wheel present themselves as anything less than the perfect intellectuals to pick up some folky harmonies and really make some magic for the world to enjoy, but arrogance isn’t a part in their recipe for success. There’s something remarkably accessible about their disposition that reminds me of a bygone era in folk and American pop music, and I hope it’s something they exploit even further in the future.
To be honest, I’ve been less than impressed with a lot of the most-lauded singer/songwriters within the present folk movement taking shape in the American underground these past three years, but personally I think that Made in Sunshine is as close to gold as it gets. This is a record that rejects the conventionality of the mainstream just to pay tribute to the traditionalism that, ironically enough, paved the way for every folk artist making hits in 2021. I can’t wait to hear what’s next from Webster’s Wheel, and I doubt I am the only one.