July 1999

The Hot Guitars of Biller and Wakefield
HMG/HighTone HMG 3006
Released: 1999

by Marc Mickelson

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]With songs titled "Martian Guts" and "Chicken at an Exhibition," The Hot Guitars of Biller and Wakefield promises at least an attempt at informality and fun, and it delivers both in heapin’ helpings. But what you might not expect is the superior dueling between steel-guitar wiz Jeremy Wakefield and Dave Biller on Fender Telecaster. These two pickers, members of their own bands who came together for this collection, obviously know well the diverse idioms they’re working in on Hot Guitars -- Texas swing flavored with rockabilly, country and hillbilly jazz. They couldn’t sound so authentic otherwise.

But more than anything else, this disc exudes the joy of music-making. "George’s Bad Day," with its slow false intro, quickly turns into a jam session, the guitarists taking turns leading and following. And I just can’t get the chorus to "Steel Crazy," sung by revivalist Big Sandy, out of my head. This along with "I Don’t Mind" and "Guitars on Fire," the latter a musical billboard for the boys' picking, are the only non-instrumental tracks on Hot Guitars (Biller or Wakefield wrote every other tune), but even they have the guitar work of the two principles at center stage.

The sound is not perfect in an audiophile sense, but it’s perfect for this recording. It lacks body, but conveys the sensation of the band playing in, say, a high-school gymnasium -- with lots of inner detail and natural reverberation. In addition to Big Sandy, there's Wally Hersom, Carl "Sonny" Leyland and Ashley Kingman of the Fly-Rite Boys backing. Their playing, and playing along, is integral to the bouncy mood on Hot Guitars.

I love this CD, which has seen more playing time than any other over the past few months. The music is distinctly American and the playing consummate. If you begin to feel twang-deprived, The Hot Guitars of Biller and Wakefield is a certain cure.