All right, I’m rising to another challenge this week, attempting to review Wheeler Walker Jr. So, for anyone possibly living under a rock who might otherwise be shocked by the content here, Wheeler is a character personified by comedian Ben Hoffman who rose to prominence rather quickly last year by releasing foul-mouthed, sexually explicit, and generally vulgar country songs, all while simultaneously creating a persona surrounding him of bashing Nashville and the current state of pop country. So for the easily offended and/or faint of heart, I don’t recommend reading on–he’s not for everyone. For all those out there who can take a joke, enjoy stuff like say, Rodney Carrington, and/or just like some really well-done, straight-up traditional country instrumentation, please read on. But you’ve been informed, so now I’m going to treat Wheeler like a real artist because that’s how this music is presented, and that’s part of its genius.
The glaring problem with Wheeler’s debut album, Redneck Shit, was that it was funny and provided quite a lot of shock value, but it didn’t really hold up. Some of it was vulgar for the sake of being vulgar, and Wheeler has definitely improved on that front. You still have plenty of examples of this on the new record; “Pussy King” was a fun single for a couple minutes, but it didn’t stay with me either, and it also went in a more bluesy direction which I don’t think suits Wheeler’s style. But then you have moments like “Summers in Kentucky,” which seems to be quite a serious song about Wheeler being out on the road and thinking about an ex from his past–she’s now married with kids, but he says that if she wants to leave her husband, she can come on tour with him. They’ve both “aged like shit,” and he’d trade all the young girls to have her “flabby ass” back. It’s songs like this, where the vulgarity comes out at unexpected moments to make serious songs funny, and yes, also to add something to the song, that make wheeler stand out as more than a comedy act and rather a country artist, which is what Wheeler’s character is going for. There’s also “Fuckin’ Around,” which is your classic country cheating song with a twist–Wheeler has been fucking around on his wife, Kacey, while on the road, but she has been doing the same back home, and now they’re both confessing their various misdeeds. Kacey’s part is sung by Nikki Lane, and she was a fantastic choice for this role. You also have a nice moment in “Drunk sluts,” where Wheeler laments his bad luck in love and that these types of girls are all he can seem to find. “Small Town Saturday Night” stands out too because it could be any mainstream party song–except for its traditional instrumentation and the fact that the characters are high on paint and propositioning a married woman while her husband “drain(s) his dick” in the bathroom–“drinking and smoking and looking for something to fuck.” The point is, instead of coming off as songs that were written for the sole purpose of being as vulgar as possible, a good portion of this record comes off as serious, if especially crass, country, and that makes it, for me, an improvement for Wheeler.
I mentioned the instrumentation, and except for “Pussy King,” which as I mentioned has a more bluesy slant, this is straight-up traditional country. Even if it’s not funny, or the humor wears off, it’s more country than 90% of the stuff being marketed as such, and Dave Cobb did a tremendous job with it. Wheeler also calls out Nashville in the closer, “Poon,” which backs up the things he says all over social media and in podcasts. It won’t be for everyone obviously, but it’s comedy, and damn it, it’s funny, and there’s wit in these songs and in Wheeler’s writing. And on top of that, it’s country. Credit to Wheeler walker Jr. for delivering us something different and unique, and even more than that, for being able to do it differently, and much better, a second time.