PressHighway 81 Revisited
PAUL WILKINSON OF MASON PORTER TAKES SOLO PATH WITH ‘400 BEARS’
Having dedicated himself full-time to music four years ago, but with live shows shut down due to the coronavirus, 2020 became the right time for Paul Wilkinson of Philly-area Americana band Mason Porter to put out his first solo album. A collection of electric blues and acoustic ditties, “400 Bears” is a reflection of the music Wilkinson had been playing live with two different live outfits recently: an electric trio and an acoustic quartet.
He tracked the record at The Music Centre in Chester Springs, Pa., with the Grammy-nominated Glenn Ferracone producing.
“He’s the one who kicked my butt and said you should make the record,” says Wilkinson. “It was more like he said you should record the album, here’s the date two weeks from now.”
The diversity of the 10-song “400 Bears” is apparent from the opening trio: “Borderline,” an easy-rolling country blues tune; the slinky guitar-and-organ blues “Memories”; and the bluegrassy “Holy Place.”
Despite using two different bands (the trio features organist Scott Coulter and drummer Josh Steingard, and the acoustic lineup has Pat Hughes on drums, Brad Hinton on dobro and Charlie Muensch on bass), the album is a cohesive piece. Talking about the commonalities between the two sets of songs (which are sequenced together on the album and not separated according to each lineup), Wilkinson considers them all to be “rootsy” and notes that the recording philosophy with both groups was the same: “I think because it’s all happening live and us playing together,” he says.
Asked if he was thinking of a particular album as a sonic touchstone, he cites latter-day classic.
“In the back of mind is always the Dylan album ‘Time Out of Mind,’ but I wouldn’t say it came out like that, but with the organ tracks and the second track, ‘Memories,’ I kind of had ‘Time Out of Mind’ on my mind,” Wilkinson says.
Read More400 Bears Debut Album
Philadelphia, PA – 400 Bears, the folk, Americana and blues solo project of guitarist and songwriter, Paul Wilkinson (Mason Porter) will release its debut, self-titled LP on October 16, 2020. Nine of the ten tracks were written by Wilkinson and influenced by the subtlety of Mississippi John Hurt, the charisma of Taj Mahal and the omnipresence of Bob Dylan in the songwriter’s life. The tenth song is the traditional, “Take This Hammer” and was recorded in quarantine with each of the players recording their individual parts at home culminating in a nine-minute musical adventure. According to Wilkinson, “[it’s] proof that maybe dreams do come true. It wound up being a perfect way to close out the record.” 400 Bears was produced by the Grammy nominated Glenn Ferracone and recorded live at The Music Centre in Chester Springs, PA.
The album features a mix of electric and acoustic arrangements and two specific sets of players for each style that enhance and buoy Wilkinson’s songwriting. The electric trio began performing regularly in 2019 and consists of organist Scott Coulter, drummer Josh Steingard (Mason Porter) and Wilkinson singing lead vocals and playing guitar. Of his bandmates, Wilkinson says, “they both are high level cats that can take their talents in any direction to serve the tune. We’ve got a great groove going.”
The acoustic line-up features Pat Hughes (formerly of Mason Porter) on drums, Brad Hinton (Wilkinson’s frequent duo partner) on dobro, and Charlie Muench (Joe Hillman Band, The Stray Birds) on bass guitar.
The album kicks off with the groovy, organ heavy, “Borderline” that would be at home at one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles and sets the tone for the rest of 400 Bears debut – it is easy to imagine them performing on festival stages around the world. “Memories” begs the question, “am I making memories, or are my memories making me?” and features Wilkinson’s signature electric guitar work and the subsequent “Holy Place” is a twanging Americana tune anchored by Hinton’s dobro licks. “Holy Place’ is a great example of how I had just the one line repeating in my head, ‘It’s a holy place where things come and go,” says Wilkinson. “Just seems to be how things go? The lyrics vary from universal things to the concrete and what was literally happening in front of me. ‘Got trouble with my wifi but my stereo is HiFi, Got Johnny at Folsom Prison ain’t no thing that I’m missin’… I had trouble with my wifi and was getting mad when I looked up at my stereo and vinyl copy of Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison was sitting out front.”
“Take It Slow” continues riding the Americana vibe and “Cold Situation” segues beautifully into a sparse tune exemplifying Wilkinson's love of both the blues and folk music. “80s Mercedes” and “Small Town” are grooves that will inspire dancing in the aisles of future 400 Bears shows, while “Annie Hall” and “Good Bear” bring it back to Wilkinson’s folk roots. The aforementioned, traditional “Take This Hammer” is the album’s magnificent folk finale and sole track with producer Glenn Ferracone on drums and his son, Luke Ferracone contributing electric guitar.
“This record wouldn’t have happened if Glenn Ferracone didn’t call and say, ‘you should make a record’. When he says, ‘let’s go’ you go,” says Wilkinson. “I got to work with musicians I admire and respect, who are also great friends. The quote I put on the back of the album cover is by H.D. Thoreau and states, ‘to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.’ That’s what I hope this record does for the people who listen to it.”
For the past fifteen years, Paul Wilkinson has been a member of the Philadelphia roots rock mainstays, Mason Porter and has performed with Katherine Rondeau, The Rolling Thunder Blues Revue and It’s About The People! The latter features Glenn Ferracone on drums, Luke Ferracone (The Groove Merchants, Hambone Relay) on guitar and Paul Klinefelter on bass. “They are all monster players and have pushed me to the next level to keep up,” says Wilkinson.
“All these players and projects gave me the confidence to pursue my own creative vision which is captured within the 400 Bears album. Acoustic, electric, band, solo, song writing and a return to folk music for “Take This Hammer.”
Paul Wilkinson is (mostly) a self-taught guitarist and bassist who’s been playing since the tender age of 12. Raised in a musical family in North Central Pennsylvania, Wilkinson he left his full time day job in 2015 to pursue music professionally. In addition to his fifteen-year involvement with Mason Porter, he plays solo shows, duo shows with a rotating cast of talented musicians and has performed at the Philadelphia Folk Fest with several different outfits including Mason Porter, The Wallace Brothers Band and Brad Hinton’s Band. The Rolling Thunder Blues Revue blues jam at Kennett Brewing Company regularly occurs once a month for Wilkinson and his blues bandmates.
With Mason Porter, Wilkinson has opened for the likes of Ralph Stanley, Charlie Daniels, Greensky Bluegrass, New Riders of the Purple Stage, Cabinet, Melvin Seals & JGB and has performed on stages including Ardmore Music Hall The Colonial Theater, The Keswick Theater, World Cafe Live, WXPN's Free at Noon and the band hosts the Midnight Mountain Music Festival annually in Blakeslee, PA.
During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, Wilkinson taught himself how to play the pedal steel on loan from his uncle.
400 Bears will be performing live in support of its debut as soon as humanly possible.