A two-lane highway can unfold like a book of stories as the miles flash by. Idlewheel’s music has the same sense of discovery to it – carried along by easy-flowing rhythms are flashes of personal revelation and homespun irony, speeding past you like an oddly familiar (or familiarly odd) small town.
Craig Bickhardt and Poco’s Jack Sundrud do it all with a wry nonchalance that belies their uncommon craftsmanship. These guys know the high road of country-rock better than most. Their credits are solid and sterling. Bickhardt was a member of renowned Nashville group SKB that enjoyed country radio success with hits that included Bickhardt and Schuyler’s “This Old House.” He has also penned songs for Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Jonathan Edwards, Pam Tillis, Martina McBride, and B. B. King, and wrote and sang the closing theme for Robert Duvall’s Academy Award winning film TENDER MERCIES. Sundrud cracked the charts with Great Plains (Sony Records) and now plays bass, writes and sings in the pioneering country- rock group Poco, whose 50-year roster reads like a who’s-who in the genre. His songs have been recorded by Kenny Rogers, The Judds, The Persuasions and others. Together Craig and Jack wrote Ty Herndon’s mega hit “It Must Be Love.”
But really, Idlewheel isn’t a spin-off of any of these projects. It’s more the product of afternoons spent swapping stories and woodshedding songs, of testing each other’s creative limits in defiance of Nashville’s prevailing conservatism.
The creative sparks that flew between Craig and Jack during their writing sessions glow brightly on their debut self-titled CD. The two of them have a knack for unreeling vignettes and painting miniatures within a pop song structure, displaying a keen eye for the telling lyric detail. Tunes like “Sweet Sadness” and “When I Tell You I Love You” have the acute veracity of life lived, not imagined for radio consumption. Their collective viewpoint is tempered with a sharp edge – “Mona Lisa’s Frown,” for one, is surely one of the great put-down songs of our era. They combine intimacy and grandeur in “I’d Move Heaven and Earth.” And with “Invisible Hope,” they achieve a moral subtlety worthy of Sherwood Anderson or Raymond Carver.
Their acoustic duo sound conjures up memories of the feisty, unfettered spirit of early Southern California country-rock, with a dash of the Everly Brothers thrown in. Idlewheel makes perfect music for a journey into the heartland. But you don’t need to hit the road to let them take you places. One show of their celebratory and bittersweet songs is all that’s required.