Despite the influence of corporate pop-country kingpins in Nashville, real country music is still alive and well. Since his 2016 breakout Redneck Shit, Wheeler Walker Jr has sought out to prove this. Back again with a heartfelt collection of songs written for his wife and son, Wheeler Walker Jr’s new album WWIII (Pepper Hill Records) captures the uncensorable country star at his absolute best.
WWIII was produced by one of Nashville’s most in-demand producers, Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell), with the help of engineer Randon Brell. Darrell Thorp handled the final mixes, and Pete Lyman at Infrasonic Mastering brought out the best in the tracks in mastering. [For our interview of Dave Cobb, see here: Interview: Producer Dave Cobb on History, Teamwork and “Now” As Great Time To Be A Musician Though his backing band for this project remains unknown, Wheeler worked with a number of co-writers to help perfect the tracks on this album. Adam James, Miles Dawson, Herf Lonkelshtein, Cleil McClellan, Charlie Wood, Frank Ricard, Rob Williford, N.A. Bruce, Bob Tarzan, Chris Gelbuda, and Jim Salter all contributed to the songwriting on this album.
Wheeler tells his story with striking honesty, warts and all. He reaches inward and comes clean about his flaws in “F*ckin’ It Up” and “I Sucked Another D*ck Last Night,” and vows to become a better man. Wheeler takes a knee and speaks to his son directly in “Save Some T*tty Milk For Me” and “All The P*ssy You Will Slay,” talking to him about family, the future, and how proud he is of him. “An*l and the Dishes,” “F*ck You With The Lights On,” and “Still Ain’t Sick of F*cking You” are heartfelt odes to his wife, while “Even When” and “Addicted” are pictures of her grace and the nature of their relationship. “I Like Smoking Pot (A Lot)” showcases class A wordplay, and “Rich Sumbitch” are Wheeler’s innermost thoughts about his newfound success and grappling with wealth.
The thing that is most compelling about Wheeler’s music is that behind all the raunchy language, there are some incredible instrumental performances. Wheeler’s backing band delivers on this album in a big way. Fans of traditional country music will appreciate the tasteful pedal steel and guitar licks. Musically, this album is a lot more laid back than Wheeler’s previous two albums, but is still chocked full of subtle gold.
Okay, I’ll get serious for a minute – yes, Wheeler Walker Jr’s music is at times (or all the time) sexually explicit in nature, and intended to be ridiculous. Wheeler is the creation of comedian Ben Hoffman, and is a character comedy bit. That said, the project has become a baffling success. Wheeler appeared on the Americana Awards Show this past year, has shared stages with Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers to play his own music, and has charted high on the country and comedy charts with his previous few releases. Even more than that, the project has become an experiment in free speech, with Wheeler being used as a platform to speak out against censorship and bias in the music industry. This lampoon of country music seems more ridiculous if you don’t account for the recycled, formulaic songwriting and production that keeps making it to the top of the country charts. In a world where corporations heavily vett songwriting and control the speech of artists whose genre used to be “three chords and the truth,” is Wheeler Walker Jr really that offensive to country music listeners? Keep on walking Wheeler, you might just be the unlikely hero country music needs.