Garrett Wieland- What Keeps The Heart Afloat review

REVIEW: Garrett Wieland "What Keeps the Heart Afloat" • Americana Highways

Garrett Wieland What Keeps the Heart Afloat

On these pages, I have frequently welcomed the receipt of music from those with whom I was not previously familiar. Add to the list Garrett Wieland.

Each time I begin to seriously consider dropping my Roots Music Opinion pencil for the last time—most recently these last three weeks—I again start scribbling because I encounter a recording so impressive I feel compelled to tell others about it, hoping mu enthusiasm transfers.

I don’t make very much money writing these days. There was once a time when I did pretty well, earning sufficient freelance dollars to keep my CD and vinyl habits funded. Those days are long—long—gone, so I mostly now do this for my own enjoyment and to spread the word, in my modest way, about artists and albums I believe are deserving of attention.  

Garrett Wieland is one such artist and What Keeps the Heart Afloat is one such album.

Tom Wilson has been on my mind this week. I love his singing, whether solo or as the leader of Lee Harvey Osmond, as a third of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, and as the frontman from Junkhouse, the Canadian rock band that I finally got to experience this past weekend. Great songs with hooks in melody and lyric, but also meaning, connotations and references that I may have missed when first heard twenty-five and more years ago.

Garrett Wieland has some Tom Wilson within his voice, especially on the album’s opening song, “Resolutions.” And like Wilson, Wieland is a careful writer, one who crafts his rhymes and visions to inspire acute affect.

Wieland’s provided biography isn’t atypical of those I receive. He has been banging around as a Texas-based troubadour for some years. He is a folk radio host, festival organizer, local listening room stalwart, bookseller, and lead singer for a group called The Independent Thieves. Based in Corpus Christi, TX, Wieland previously released Letter From the End of the World, an album I haven’t encountered.

This is a weighty album, and my ears were immediately drawn to the quality of Wieland’s songwriting and singing. Three songs drew me in, and imagine my disappointment when I started to read the accompanying one-sheet to find that these were the highlighted songs! I may as well just re-publish the PR man’s writing!

“Devotion” has a heavy drumbeat to accompany the heroic and tragic story of the Black cowboy, Britton Johnson. The late 1800s is also the setting for “Outlaw’s Farewell” where Pat Garrett tells a tale of Billy the Kid’s final night. Another historical figure—both heroic and tragic—is examined in “To Carry Rain (For Townes”). It is the courageous songwriter who chooses to take on a Texas songwriting legend, but Wieland proves up to the challenge within this memorable number.

Other songs of significance include “To Be Grateful” and “A Hand in the Dark,” with “Prairie Doctor and the Gunman” developing into a personal favourite: Mason Shirley’s pedal steel is an essential element of this lonesome song. Dennis Wilson is given a sympathetic portrait within “Dennis;” I believe this song will become the one to which I most frequently return. Faith—not necessarily religion—is challenged (“Jesus What a Mess”) and embraced (“Mustard Seed”) as the album comes to a close. Truly, each of the dozen songs included could serve as a centerpiece for a short essay. Beautiful little creations, these are.

Recorded largely as a duo (Wieland, guitars, bass, mandolin, and piano; Shirley, drums, organ and pedal steel) with minimal accompaniment (Carrie Mae Pierce, cello and Zak Kaszynski, trumpet) What Keeps the Heart Afloat is a personal, sometimes intensely intimate album as Wieland cuts to some hard truths, even when examining well-established truths and known figures.  

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