Fresh Pickles: Big Wu Goes Bluegrass
Big Wu was a hugely popular jam band in the mid-90s. Based in Minnesota, they hold a special place in festival lore, being the opening act at the very first Bonnaroo festival in 2002. They continued to tour extensively until 2006 but mostly stopped touring after that while hosting an annual festival and doing intermittent gigs since then. Chris Castino, their guitar player, founder, and vocalist, wrote most of Big Wu’s songs, and during the pandemic, with time on his hands, he decided to breathe new life into some of his most popular songs. His father’s love of bluegrass was an inspiration for him to rearrange a number of his songs. He recruited Milwaukee-based Chicken Wire Empire, a progressive bluegrass band that I recently saw at the Riverhawk Music Festival, to work with him on reimagining his favorites. He also set about enlisting an impressive list of legendary bluegrass guest artists: Sam Bush, Tim O’Brien, Nick Forster, Keller Williams, Andy Hall, Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan.
The 11 songs range from more traditional arrangements (“Young Pioneer,” “Jackson County”) to fiery uptempo tunes (“Rhode Island Red,” ” Texas Fireball”). Chicken Wire Empire provides some great instrumentation, and this mix of tunes and tempos keeps the album interesting. One of the more unusual numbers is “The Ballad of Dan Toe.” Castino noted, “It’s a tale of a mythical mystic who is bigger than life. Because it is inspired by the writing of Peter Rowan, there’s no understating the bliss of having him sing with me on this tune. Jerry Douglas also appears here. These two are my bigger-than-life heroes.” The Infamous Stringdusters’ Andy Hall adds some amazing work on “Texas Fireball”, and Sam Bush adds some great fiddles to the interestingly crooked “Red Sky.”
The end result is a uniquely fascinating album that will be released on February 4, although there are two songs currently available on most outlets.
Fresh Pickles Track Listing:
1.) Kangaroo 2:38
2.) Red Sky 4:25 (feat. Sam Bush on fiddles)
3.) Bound For the South 5:26 (w/ Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster)
4.) Shanty Town 3:24 (feat. Vince Herman)
5.) Minnesota Moon 3:41 (w/ Adam Greuel)
6.) Texas Fireball 2:38 (feat. Keller Williams and Andy Hall)
7.) Young Pioneer 3:57
8.) Rhode Island Red 3:18
9.) Jackson County 5:33 (feat. Jerry Douglas and Adam Greuel)
10.) The Ballad of Dan Toe 6:32 (feat. Peter Rowan and Jerry Douglas)
11.) Irregular Heartbeat 4:59