As much as Wino deserves his doom godfather status for fronting groups like The Obsessed and Saint Vitus, there’s something to be said for his more recent singer/songwriter excursions. Whether going it alone or with such collaborators as Conny Ochs, the acoustic style suits him surprisingly well and the volume contrast brings a fuller perspective to his haggard lifer persona. This is especially true for his third album, Forever Gone (Ripple Music), which may be his most low-key effort to date.
Despite a decade passing since his last solo outing, 2010’s Adrift, Wino is within his stark, minimalist element here. The vocals carry a candidness enhanced by the limited range and the acoustic playing has a bluesy tone with a faint echo that suits the roomy atmosphere. The arrangements are pretty sparse but some extra elements like electric leads, occasional drums, and backing vocals on ‘Was, Is, and Shall Be’ broaden the album’s dynamics and keep things from feeling too one-note.
When looking at the songs themselves, it’s interesting to note that the album doesn’t consist of entirely new material. Several songs have their roots in the collaborations with Conny Ochs as ‘Dark Ravine’ and ‘Dead Yesterday’ were originally pulled from 2012’s Heavy Kingdom as ‘Crystal Madonna’ and the title track were from 2015’s Freedom Conspiracy. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker as these rerecorded versions fit right in with the rest of the material, but it does make Forever Gone feel more like a compilation than a proper full-length.
Fortunately, there are great tracks on display. The title track establishes a somber mood that gets even heavier emotional resonance with the gorgeous electric layering on ‘Taken.’ ‘The Song’s At The Bottom Of The Bottle’ and ‘You’re So Fine’ put the blues to the forefront as the former features a slow, subtle shuffle while the latter shows off a more active swing after its off-the-cuff guitar meandering. The closing cover of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ is another interesting track; I must admit that its percussive execution feels somewhat out of place though I also wonder how the album would’ve sounded with more tracks in that vein.
Overall, Forever Gone is an enjoyable slice of acoustic desert rock from a legend well-versed in the style. While the album takes a couple extra listens to feel out compared to the more ear-catching Adrift, the organic playing makes for a pleasant listen and the stripped-down presentation allows for multi-faceted moods throughout. It may not be as heavy as Wino’s usual biker doom, but diehard fans are sure to catch onto a similar vibe. Even when it’s mellowed out, his brand is unmistakable.
7 / 10