I listen to a ton of acoustic-related music, so I like things to get a little experimental. I look for artists to wow me with some tasteful-yet-unique genre mashups, go deep on the lyrical concept, package it with a multimedia experience, or in general do something that stands out. But every now and then, a band comes along that just does one thing really well. Ted Z and the Wranglers play ’90s-style alt-country (pedal steel, organ, sneering vocals, galloping drums), nothing more or less. Their five-song EP Like a King relies on infectious melodies and complete identification with the alt-country ideal to be impressive.
Ted Z is such an alt-country purist that his band is named The Wranglers. Everything about this fits right into your mental map of alt-country, but in a way that celebrates the genre, not copies it. It helps that the musicians are incredibly talented, the songwriting is so smooth, and the production is incredibly tight. This is the definition of “listenable,” in that it’s fun to hear. By the end of the title track and “Heaven’s Rent,” I was hooked on the faithful representation of the alt-country ethos. “Heaven’s Rent” includes some western swing vibes, while the title throws down straight-ahead work. “Virginia” is a love song, which switches things up a bit; the ’50s-rock-inspired “Ball and Chain” follows it up, in case you were thinking that they were getting too sentimental on you.
Closer “Tomorrow” really shows off the band’s songcraft, mining vocal harmonies, woozy pedal steel, and an intimate feel that draws me close. This one is a little less country and a little more Paul Simon, but it’s still in the genre. The beautiful vocal chorus is remarkable, as well. Ted Z and the Wranglers’ Like a King is the rare release that sticks out from the crowd simply by perfecting its genre. They know how to write an alt-country song, and sometimes that’s all I ask: to tap my foot, sing along, and feel good.