LUTHER WRIGHT & The WRongs with Jason Ringenberg and Wayne Omaha at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (August 8). $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Hearing luther wright & the Wrongs do their country-style Pink Floyd thing brought to mind Vaughn Meader. Back in the early 60s, Meader was a comic impressionist who made his name spoofing John F. Kennedy. It was Meader, not Mayor "Diamond" Joe Quimby from The Simpsons, who brought the famous "er, ah" stumble into the popular vernacular. He was making a killing off Kennedy, until somebody killed Kennedy.
Have you heard about Meader lately? Exactly. He found out the hard way that his success was completely dependent on the status of his only satirical subject.
Luther Wright & the Wrongs looked like they might be in danger of repeating Meader's folly with their Rebuild The Wall novelty project, a twangy revision of Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Although the wacky, media-friendly takeoff brought the group a lot of attention, the more notoriety they got as a "tribute act," the harder a proper Luther Wright & the Wrongs follow-up would be.
But since they began road-testing the material from their new Guitar Pickin' Martyrs disc, they've found that Wright's compositions are going over just as well as the Floyd stuff, so it looks like they may avoid Meader's unfortunate fate after all.
"The reaction stateside has been great," enthuses Wright on a cellphone while crossing Vermont. "To completely generalize, American audiences tend to commit to a band more quickly. There's no sitting on their hands. So far, so good over here."
Guitar Pickin' Martyrs is primarily a country record, with Wright's Southern-style phrasing and the band's easy-breezy playing immediately appealing to fans of twang.
They're joined on the record by long-time friends Chris Brown, Oh Susanna and "sixth member" Sarah Harmer. So in spite of Wright's creaky attempts at yodelling, it's more of a folk-rock operation than anything you might associate with the Opry.
"We're not really seasoned country players. Dan Curtis, our guitar player, is really the Duke Ellington of the band, arranging solos and everything. He's had a huge influence on our sound, but I don't know if he even owns any country records.
"The more we play together, the more spontaneous we become. It's a jazzy mentality we've gotten into where we just get up there and play, goddammit. There's nothing like playing and playing and playing. It makes you never doubt doin' what you've been dreaming about."
All that playing can't leave Wright and his boys that much time for brawling. But I'd wager that the Wrongs could still handle themselves if they ever got into a beef with Oshawa yodellers Cuff the Duke.
"I don't know if they're sissies or not, so I'm not sure who would win in a fight. There are already enough people around to knock you, though - why fight with other bands? Anyway, I'm a lover, not a fighter."
Judging by Guitar Pickin' Martyrs songs like Broken Fuckin' Heart, I'm Not Okay and My Heart, My Heart - all tales of failed love - perhaps Wright needs to rethink his whole lover/fighter strategy.
"We wanted to explore heartache with humour. It's a concept album, but it's the oldest concept. Love problems have been around since caveman days. I just attuned myself to the album's concept and ran with it. The songs just kind of appeared."
Maybe one day Guitar Pickin' Martyrs will be played in a planetarium accompanied by a laser light show. Dare to dream.