I honestly can’t tell you too much about this guy or this album. Based on the details I can cobble together online, Smoke Wilson (not to be confused with Smokey Wilson) appears to be a blues-rock singer-guitarist from D.C. but may now live in Nashville. And this appears to be the reissue and/or online debut of his second album, which was released back in 2017 or so. At least, I think that’s right. I dunno.
But here’s something I can tell you for sure: This album lives up to its name and then some. Volcano burns like a blues club on fire and crackles like a juke joint hit by lightning. Wilson’s fretwork is ferocious and relentless. His vocals continually bury the needle in the red. His riffs are sludgy and fuzzy and thick as bricks. His full-on sonic assault take no prisoners. He grooves and moves and shucks and jives like a mofo. And songs like You Stole My VCR, English Muffin and Dirty Thing are gonzo enough to justify the Ralph Steadman cover art. Imagine Jack White channeling the ghost of Jimi Hendrix on a cocktail of psychedelics and amphetamines and you’re in the ballpark. It seems like Smoke finally released all three of his albums online this week; if the others are as wild, woolly and goddamn wonderful as this one, book me a seat on the bandwagon. And if you like your blues-rock unhinged, amped the max and off the rails, you probably want to make a reservation too. So what more do you need to know?
THE EDITED BIO: Cutting his teeth in the club circuit, Smoke Wilson is a merciless performer. Fearless, original and most importantly; bloody entertaining. Masterfully negotiating the tightrope between chaos and order, He consistently conquers the typically jaded crowd, But it takes more than parlor tricks to break the audience’s heart.
It takes blues hallucinations, ghostly psychedelia and a confessional soul. Rock ’n’ roll for a seemingly doomed America. The culmination of his remarkably innovative guitar playing, an instantly recognizable voice and gifted lyricism reveals an otherworldly depth of talent with plenty of room to stretch out. But at 6 foot 5 inches, Wison is comfortable being the elephant in the room.
From the first rumble of his debut I’ve Changed Too, it was apparent that Smoke is here to clear the air. In the silence before the trademark riff finally drops, one can usually hear a few audience members gasp. Roaring feedback, Glacial clean tones, Raw knuckled attack. A lefthanded Stratocaster could overshadow everything, but his seductive wit takes center stage. “Just like a dragon, breathing fire from your nose. You said that you’ve changed, but all you did was change your clothes”.
The material actually stands for something. Behind the fuzz drenched tones are arrangements with remarkable elegance and a knack for weaving something seemingly careless into utter perfection. There is a physicality to it and Smoke Wilson is the perfect rock ’n’ roll silhouette. Wielding sheer rock candy savagery, the influence of the old masters is visceral. Playing with his teeth, behind the head, smashed guitars, exploding drum sets; Smoke has that in spades. During a performance, it’s as if his Fender is a dance partner and together not only do they know every trick in the book, but invent a new one every night. At times it’s hard to tell where Wilson ends and his Stratocaster begins.
As a composer, Smoke shows a tremendous sense of craft. Exploring the subject matter of life and death, addiction, freedom, the romantic, the supernatural and ultimately redemption; There is drama in the songs. Raucous and animalistic one moment, subtle and nuanced the next. It is obvious he writes music for the right reasons, But it’s the syncopation and Smoke’s uninhibited bluesy howl that makes you believe him. A gravelly rasp with a firmly held belief or conviction. Whether explaining his broken heart or poetically cursing out the system, he does so with steamroller strength. His voice is entirely his own and it’s too loud not to be heard.
Interestingly enough, Wilson developed a longtime friendship with perhaps the most notable artist alive today in Ralph Steadman. Widely known for his illustrations in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, his work goes far, far deeper than that. Gracing not one but three of Smoke’s boutique studio album covers, Steadman is among the most skilled painters of our time, and his pure gonzo style is unarguably the most recognizable. See Johnny Depp’s documentary on Ralph For No Good Reason if you’re unfamiliar, or his gorgeously detailed art books I, Leonardo or The Grapes Of Ralph.
The polished studio albums Blue Sky Traffic, Volcano and Peacemaker were captured at the legendary Blackbird Studio D in Nashville. Under the glossy surface, The records show a surprising mastery of rock’s past and future, explosive live band hip-hop and unshakable hooks. Upon first listen, it is evident Smoke is a dreamer with the balloon ambition to trigger a new era.
As the song says, there’s 1,652 guitar pickers in Nashville. That’s an understatement, there’s more. But the difference, the big variable; Smoke Wilson is going for blood.”