It’s easy to forget that just outside the bustling megalopolis of Milwaukee exists a grand and beautiful state, full of pristine nature, gorgeous sunsets, and a good ol’ fishin’ hole or two. The Blue Mooners do not forget. On the lovely, funny, weird, and lovely new Wildwood, the mysterious Milwaukee band sets aside its previous penchant for posterior-based puns (see 2014’s The Blue Mooners LP) and heads to the great north woods for a nice relaxing weekend. What happens when an already country-tinged, tongue-in-cheek project packs its acoustic guitars and goes “up north”? The answers—and a few surprises—lie within.
The Blue Mooners’ true identities may be as murky as a moonless night, but it’s fair to say that the uncanny resemblance of frontman Spud Butler and Sat. Nite Duets member Stephen Strupp may be more than a coincidence. Not that it matters: Wildwood stands as an affectionate, ramshackle ode to Wisconsin country living all its own. Short instrumental “Breezeland” sets the stage with some wistful strings, intricate guitar picking, and chirping birds. Those birds carry over to the goofy “Big Bad Wolf,” which features backing vocals from The Whiskeybelles and lines like “Howling at the moon / I feel just like a cartoon / Nothing better to do / Than to do the Dew.” Elsewhere, “Rhinelander” and the surrounding “Hodag Country” get hook-laden shout-outs (“Oh, where’d the Hodag go? / You’re never gonna know if he’s a friend or a foe”), and “Black Bear” plays like an eco-friendly answer to Ted Nugent’s hunting wet dream “Fred Bear.”
But Spud Butler and The Blue Mooners have more up their flannel sleeves than just fishing stories and tributes to mythical beasts. The middle section of Wildwood takes a surprising turn to ’60s bubblegum psych-pop, with groovy freakouts like “Swamp Hop,” “Cel Ray,” and a fuzzy cover of “Walk Right In” pushing their way though the weeds. Things cool down again with closing tracks “Minocqua Mama” and the accompanying “Boulder Junction,” the former the hands-down winner of best song title of the year. The mid-album shakeup is welcome, but the final two tracks nicely sum up The Blue Mooners’ M.O.: crack musicianship, effortless hooks, and a genuine appreciation for the lands north of Milwaukee. The fact that it’s all done with a knowing wink and a tip of a cowboy hat makes it all the more winning, weird, and wonderful.
The Blue Mooners will celebrate the release of Wildwood Friday, August 12 at Company Brewing. Rupert Angeleyes and The Rockbirds From Rockford (Rockford, IL) will play in support. CDs of Wildwood and the band’s self-titled album will be available. Listen to Wildwood below, only at Milwaukee Record.