Album Review: The Wicked Lo-Down – Out of Line

Formed in 2020 just prior to the world hitting the pause button, New England-based quintet The Wicked Lo-Down builds its sound on a combination of r&b and Texas blues. Led by guitarist Paul Size and vocalist Nick David, the group got busy making a debut album. Self-released in 2022, We Hot was a nine-song collection (plus a radio edit of one track) that showcased the band’s strengths. That disc’s most-played cut is the title track, a gritty and stomping blues number that recalls both ZZ Top and the late (and former Fabulous Thunderbird) Nick Curran.

Signed to Gulf Coast Records, the band returns in 2024 with its second long player, the self-produced Out of Line. Boasting substantially higher production values and a more streamlined sonic aesthetic, Out of Line is a more fully realized showcasing of the group’s musical assets.

Right out of the gate, “Kill Me or Keep Me” introduces the band’s tight and forceful musical approach. While the song itself is solid and catchy, it’s Size’s comparatively lengthy lead guitar break that serves as the tune’s centerpiece. And Size isn’t one of those one-tone players; “Marchin’ On” presents a significantly different guitar part; the song successfully combines the blues aesthetic with a more rock/soul arrangement.

Once again, David’s powerful lead vocal and Size’s searing guitar work are the ingredients that will catch most listeners’ ears, but the rock-solid playing of the rest of the group is what makes the music move along. Second guitarist Jeffrey Berg, bassist Brad Hallen and Nick Toscano on drums all play with power, finesse and of-one-mind musical simpatico. Hallen’s muscular bass work deserves special mention.

A self-contained unit, The Wicked Lo-Down proves time and again on this record that they can succeed musically without outside help. That said, guest players Mike Zito (on “Out of Line”) and Monster Mike Welch (lead guitar on “Toxic”) each add their own special sauce to the band’s recipe. Zito’s sizzling, melodic fretwork fits neatly into the band’s sound, and Welch spars breathtakingly with Size during his guest spot.

The surf guitar tones on “Put Up With You” are wedded to a slinky jazz aesthetic that provides a great opportunity for David to showcase the breadth of his vocal style. Nick David’s harp blowing on “You Don’t Know Me” makes a strong tune even better; Size’s clean picking on the track provides a nice contrast with the more distorted guitar tones on the record’s other tunes. The band knows how to swing hard while keeping the solid groove going.

With Out of Line, The Wicked Lo-Down manage the neat trick of having it both ways. Listeners who delight in well-crafted songs – tunes that are more than mere canvases for solos – will find plenty to like. And those whose tastes lean toward extended lead guitar workouts will find their needs more than satisfied.