THE RAT PACK - Wishing Well
It’s probably stating the obvious, but if you want to avoid that ‘difficult second album’ scenario, just take some time to write some damn good songs. In following up 2016’s debut ‘Chasing Rainbows’ that’s exactly what Finland’s finest Wishing Well have done, and the result is forty-five minutes of sheer, unadulterated pleasure, courtesy of the songwriting skills of Anssi Korkiakoski and the performance of one of the world’s most under-rated outfits. Is it rock? Is it metal? Does it matter? Wishing Well revel in the glory of Seventies’ heavy music and their sound is a sumptuous blend of rock, metal and blues, topped off with that magic je ne sais quoi that only a handful of bands truly possess.
Since that first album there have been some line-up changes, and Wishing Well now boast an expanded five-piece ‘classic’ line-up with guitarist Korkiakoski, bassist Rick Becker and drummer Juha Kivikanto joined by Chilean vocalist Rafael Castillo and keyboard player Arto Teppo [not a Star Wars robot!]. The band have pulled together beautifully, and in comparing the two albums, Korkiakoski is an extremely happy man. “On ‘Rat Race’ there’s a whole new band performing and the vibe around the album and on the songs is way better because of that. ‘Rat Race’ is versatile just like ‘Chasing Rainbows’ was but I feel that there’s more depth in it; though I must add that at the time of recording we had that on the first album too: it was just somehow different back then. The Hammond organ also makes a difference because it brings that old school feel to the album. ‘Rat Race’ was a pleasure to record and we had a real good time in the studio. We didn’t want to polish it too much digitally because we wanted to keep a fresh feel while recording, despite some small mistakes. I do feel that the overall sound on the new album is better than on the first one. But when you have two babies you love them both,” he laughs.
“And I certainly agree that Rafael and Arto make a big difference,” he continues, “and I feel that they sound very good together on the songs I wrote. Rafa also had a big influence on re-arranging some of the songs and since he’s a sound engineer himself recording with him was a very nice experience. I learned a lot from him and maybe he learned something from me so hopefully it was good for us both. I like his raspy tone and many people have told me that his voice is excellent for that ‘no man's land’ between hard rock and metal that is Wishing Well. As for Arto and the Hammond we had no disagreements whatsoever; we both love that distorted Hammond sound and want to keep it alive as long as we can. I contacted Arto first since I knew him from the Perfect Strangers Of Finland – that’s the local Deep Purple fan club – and Arto suggested Rafael after they performed ‘Child In Time’ together on stage in a jam session in Helsinki.”
‘Rat Race’ is a hugely diverse album – hence the guitarist’s comment about falling between rock and metal – with a huge array of surprises, including a children’s choir on the all-round feelgood singalong ‘Children Of Paradise’, the Rainbow-esque title track with its reggae-tinged middle eight and the Maiden runs in ‘The Day Of Doom’. The album’s standout cut though has to be ‘Pilgrim Caravan’: preceded by ‘A Little Dream’, a short acoustic workout, ‘Pilgrim Caravan’ is an Eastern-tinged epic of great intensity, and a better song may not be written this year. “I’m very happy with the way ‘Pilgrim Caravan’ came out and I feel it's the best song I’ve written so far,” says Korkiakoski in response to my salivating. “I hope people like it and understand it, though it’s not a very typical song in any way. It’s clear that the Western world nowadays doesn’t have very much idea about the Muslim world but I’ve always been interested in their culture and traditions and I have a big respect for their religion, just like I respect all religions. The pilgrimage to Mecca is something I’ve always been fascinated by and with this song I somehow wanted to use a different angle, so that little boy’s journey to the Holy Land became the story and – I hope – a synonym for peace and understanding of other cultures. Rafael’s voice fits the song very well and I like his Arabic style phrasing a lot. Syrian violinist Mouafak Baravi improvised a great solo and outro for the song during a two-hour long studio session and I feel those sounds and melodies are something no Western player could have pulled off.”
For the next album, Korkiakoski already has his eye on “taking things further when it comes to sound and arrangements and so on. Mixing guitar and Hammond together is a form of art, and I want to truly master that.” In the meantime though, go grab a copy of ‘Rat Race’: its predecessor was my 2016 album of the year, and Wishing Well’s 2018 offering has got to be a contender for top dog this year too. From the hard-nosed thrash ‘n’ bash of ‘Wheeling And Dealing’ to the elegiac album closer ‘Grain Of Sand’ this is an album imbued with a sense of identity and purpose, and an absolute joy to listen to over and over again. Believe me, things don’t get much better than this.
© John Tucker March 2018