Music News

On a Wing and a Prayer

It's a crisp Friday afternoon at the Circle-A Ranch, the working-class home and headquarters of local twanglers Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts. Soapy Argyle, singer/songwriter/ guitarist for the act, sits on his back porch and sips chilly cans of Milwaukee's Best with drummer Shawn 4-On ("You know, like 'four on the floor,'" he says). As the men kick back and discuss the origins of their group (which also includes standup bassist and namesake Mr. Tree), they present a visitor with a can of something other than beer that they hope will help put their start in perspective. The can is wrapped with a hand-drawn label that reads "Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts' Refried Beans."

"This music stuff was just a hobby, like collecting Playboys or something," says Argyle, who sports a loose knit cap, wire-rimmed glasses and the address of a local Mexican restaurant inked onto the back of his hand. "Then we decided to become an entrepreneurial partnership, and we got this bean business going." He looks down at the can and rolls it in his hands. "But the company went out of business the day after we made our first batch of beans." What happened? "Mr. Tree's uncle down in Lafayette had a bean plant," 4-On reveals, "and the employees would can our beans on the weekends. But we were pretty much bastards and didn't know what we were doing, and the workers didn't like us. It turned out some employees were defecating in the cans." What? "They shit in the beans," Argyle says, "and the company went under. We said, 'Screw this, let's make a band.'"

As band-birth stories go, this is surely one of the more unusual, and one that may or may not be true. As the affable Argyle and 4-On drain another round of beers, it becomes clear that they spin more tales than the squirrels digging in the Circle-A's garden of wintered-over Swiss chard. "I try out for the Denver Nuggets every year," he says earnestly. "Last year I tried out as a center and this year I tried out as a two-guard. But my three-pointer wasn't hitting the rim, and they all kind of laughed at me." Soon, much like the homemade mobile that spins above his cap -- a folk-art contraption fashioned from a bike reflector, an oven knob and a kitchen spatula -- Argyle is left flapping in the breeze as his story unravels faster than a Nuggets' fourth-quarter lead. The two giggle like little kids.

Some may laugh at the Wingnuts' musical efforts as well, but only for the right reasons. The 'Nuts play an amalgamation of roots music they call "doghouse rock," and the band may well be the most entertaining act in Denver. "We got the doghouse bass, and we got rock," Argyle says, elaborating on his band's descriptive handle. "It ain't rockabilly, because it ain't true to all the cliches and what have you. And it ain't garage rock, because we got a doghouse bass." Argyle speaks in clean, rural tones and comes across like some country cousin. But he's way too wry for bumpkin status and, like any good comic, there's a dual meaning to just about everything that slips from his lips. "What does 'doghouse' imply?" he asks. "It implies that you've been cheating and you're back out in the yard. Well, that's how it is with us, because we don't really fit in with all the hip things of rock. And we play clubs where they pair us with these bands that just don't fit with us, because there's nobody like us in town." Not that the Wingnuts are unhappy with their out-in-the-yard status. "Our goal," he says, "is to keep it loose and be able to appeal to little kids and old people. And drunk people, too. And drunk little kids."

All of these demographic groups should be able to enjoy the Wingnuts' debut CD, Get Your Beans. The band's six-song release is a primal gem that fuses hillbilly mayhem, careening rock energy and countrified prose into one righteous whole. The band conjures up its psycho-cornabilly in reckless fashion, too, rumbling down musical dirt roads like a drunken road crew at quitting time. Adding to the recording's rawhide bliss is its two-mikes-and-a-prayer sound that will thrill fans of vintage '50s pre-rock. The disc's opening cut, "I Love Trees," is whoop-it-up garage-a-billy, a unique tale of love. When the singer's crooked-toothed, knock-kneed lover moves to the city, he sets about felling the timber where he'd carved a heart and the pair's initials. "I chopped that wood and it felt so good/I think that I'm about," the singer brays, "to head into the city and chop down your damn house." "It All Looks Like Roses" features a clever counterpoint lyric ("When your eyes are red") and a Chuck Berry-meets-Charlie Feathers feel filled with dark images paired with a chorus of fervent requests for coffee, white bread and omelettes. It's wonderful, oddball stuff, with the screaming, string-mashing Argyle starring as the proverbial Mile High madman. "Valentine's Day" sounds like the Flat Duo Jets fronted by some Carolina tobacco farmer, a song that swings hard (thanks to the solid playing from Tree and 4-On) as Argyle hollers about barroom brawls and swilling gasoline before stumbling through another of his bumper-car solos.

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Marty Jones