Unfortunately, too many folks associate acoustic records with the Unplugged series, MTV’s dressing-up of the network’s most lucrative acts’ most marketable songs in the guise of intimate restylings. Early on, Gen Xers snarfed up the gourmet-packaged Billboard-fortified pablum – in effect catalyzing a legitimate cultural phenomenon – because it gave them the appearance of being cultured, or at least thoughtful. Think about that for a moment and then remember that Poison made an Unplugged record. The only unplugged Poison worth a piss is the one that follows a do-not-resuscitate order and the only thing thoughtful about the series in general was its ingenious injection of yet another sieve into the cash veins of America’s spendthriftiest demographic.
Maybe that’s part of why so many of us experienced (perhaps more than) a bit of trepidation at the news of an acoustic effort from Scott “Wino” Weinrich, one of the metal world’s most enduring and irreproachable ambassadors. Adrift isn’t an MTV project, obviously, but the implications are posed nonetheless. Wino couldn’t allow himself be part of such shallow marketing, could he? Well, no. Of course not. Just asking the question feels blasphemous. So it must be that his creative wellspring had simply offered up a bevy of ideas that demanded the more personal approach. This is, after all, the process by which the most effective acoustic moments are born.
As a function of its naked vulnerability, the acoustic format fosters intimacy (as a goal, rather than a tool) between player and audience. It’s personal. Or, at least, it ought to be. In considering how to frame an acoustic work from Wino, I reflected on having first learned to appreciate the authenticity of acoustic albums with a compilation of rarities from John Lee Hooker’s Detroit Era folk blues sessions. I’ve found that collection to be a worthy barometer by which to measure other acoustic records because it revealed just how much soul could be conveyed by a man and his guitar, maybe a tapping foot, and sung stories of life.
The Hooker stuff came to mind not only because Adrift shares its conceptual space but also because it’s sonically much more akin to this type of work than anything born of eMpTyV. Wino’s style here is undeniably his own, but reaches through rock-and-roll to the unadulterated storytelling focus of its folk blues roots. But this is Wino, so the folk blues template can barely contain his predilection for electric fuzz and psychedelics, though these are used judiciously in another example of his songwriting acumen.
Ultimately, Wino’s second solo record is all about those candid conversations about life, from which the man has never shied away, its lyrics reflecting his side of the discourse that flows naturally between a couple of good friends over beers. Politics and family and friends and fear and I don’t care/ Wear my hair down to my knees. As always, he underscores the feeling behind the words with unparalleled riffcraft and frank, expressive vocals. Indeed, his voice has never sounded so strong nor so immediate, taking full advantage of the space afforded for dynamic range by the acoustic medium. And though he’s spoken his piece in the dialect of Doom for more than three decades, the feeling here of restrained optimism is both welcome and refreshing. Which isn’t to say Wino has completely tempered the fire, as he lights up the fretboard as passionately as ever. He may even be more impassioned here, especially as reflected in several searing solos (acoustic and electric) lending credence to the notion that even a relatively reserved Wino never runs low on “fuck yeah.”
Whereas the intimacy of Adrift is pervasive, it might be most evident, ironically, in the cover of Motörhead’s “Iron Horse/Born to Lose.” An exemplary case of how to remake a great song respectfully while still making it one’s own, Wino’s stripped down version captures the poignant might of the original with sheer emotional grit. You can see him stretching his neck up to the mike, eyes clenched and teeth bared, On Iron Horse he flies/ On Iron Horse he gladly dies.
Although reservation concerning an acoustic album from the world’s preeminent purveyor of Doom is understandable and perhaps even warranted, rest assured that what we got in Adrift is all Wino. Unfettered by corporate machinations, undaunted by a lifetime of often self-imposed tribulation, Wino’s Adrift is anything but, finding a true trajectory in the vulnerability of the man. One hundred percent authentic. Which is what we should have expected all along.