J.S. Wildhack is the moniker of Davis McGraw, a Windsor guitarist who spent time in various bands, most notably rock outfits the Pilgrims and Derek and the Demons. These groups, part of the Upper Valley collective/sorta-label What Doth Life, dabbled in snarly punk, '80s hard rock and ironic '90s alt-rock.
In May 2014, McGraw released an EP of forgotten and never-released tracks from 2008 under the Wildhack name. This July, he followed up with a new four-song collection titled Punch Up! Blending outlaw country and garage-y indie rock, Wildhack distances himself slightly from his previous work on the new EP. But he doesn't abandon his street-fighting, hell-raising days entirely.
Punch Up! opens with "Enough of Me," a confident, boot-tappin' twanger. Wildhack is not shy about his late-night escapades, laying his words out like winning cards at the poker table: "Oh yeah those midnight sweats/ can't get enough of me / Sunday morning reckoning sessions / can't get enough of me / Face down screamed confession / can't get enough of me."
"Consult the Authority" showcases Wildhack's guitar chops. Moments of stinging slide contrast a bluesy blaze of fingerpicking. Cultural snark abounds in the lyrics. "Model on the mirror image dream / hooked in by the checkout magazine / twenty-twenty hot sight hell / everyday a show and tell," Wildhack observes.
Throughout the EP, Wildhack's deadpan, off-the-cuff delivery echoes CAKE's John McCrea. It works surprisingly well, coming off as natural instead of stylized. Instrumentally, Wildhack's no-frills sound is a less raucous version of his earlier work. It's still guitar-driven, but not quite as loud and rollicking.
Slice-of-life lyrics permeate "Little Deiter," but Wildhack also throws a knowing wink at the struggling hipster-artist trope. "I'm crashing down with my folks again / yeah they sure don't raise my salary the way they raise the rent / Just need a break and I'll be a star / the Barnum Bailey of the local bar."
The EP closes with "North Country," a slow, tambourine-tinged number. In a tinny, high pitch, Wildhack sings of love lost. It's a fairly bland tune, but this slip is easily forgotten once you play the EP again.
And you will. Because Wildhack's tongue-in-cheek yet honest lyrics will give you a laugh, and you'll be tapping your feet as he riffs guitar in skuzzy, twangy delight. Punch Up! is choppy, sexy and just rowdy enough.