Wooks make waves with debut ‘Little Circles’


Lexington five-piece “newgrass” group The Wooks have their sights set on the release of their debut album “Little Circles,” out Sept. 23. Photo provided by The Wooks

Matt Wickstrom

After a year filled with rocky mountain highs and bumps in the road, Lexington five-piece “newgrass” group The Wooks have their sights set on the release of their debut album “Little Circles,” out Sept. 23. 

The record features 11 tracks including covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” Bill Monroe’s “Jake Satterfield,” and the Jerry Garcia Band’s “Sisters and Brothers.”

Production of “Little Circles” began in July of 2015 at Compass Records in Nashville under the guidance of Alison Brown, but was haulted in the fall when banjo player Arthur Hancock was forced to the sidelines with back problems. 

Hancock returned to performing with the group earlier this year and until more recently would stay glued to a chair while performing to ease the pain on his recovering back. 

With Hancock on the mend, The Wooks departed on their first West Coast tour last month, performing a handful of shows in Colorado and Montana and culminating with a victory at the 44th Rockygrass Festival in Lyons, Colorado. 

The win put The Wooks in the same category as Town Mountain, Steep Canyon Rangers, Louisville’s 23 String Band, and others who have conquered Rockygrass before them. 

According to Hancock The Wooks missed the initial deadline to apply for the band competition due to his back problems, but were given a second life when one of the competing bands dropped out unexpectedly only days before the festival, opening up a spot for The Wooks that they wouldn’t squander away. 

While at Rockygrass Galen Green and Jesse Wells, The Wooks mandolin and fiddle players each took home second place honors in their respective instrument competitions as well. 

Each track on “Little Circles” is like a snowflake – unique in it’s own way while sticking to The Wooks hand-crafted recipe of bluegrass. 

The group’s versatility and individual musical prowess shines brightest on “White Lines and Neon Signs,” a banjo-driven tune that also showcases Green and C.J. Cain’s fiery flatpicking on mandolin and guitar respectively along with Wells’ timely caressing of the fiddle and Roddy Puckett holding a steady rhythm on bass. 

Cain’s exquisite songwriting takes center stage on “County Girl,” a story about chasing love that features imagery-rich, easy flowing lyrics and tranquil instrumentals headed by a coupling of fiddle and mandolin.

Two of “Little Circles” most energetic and upbeat tracks are “Turtle in the Creek” and “Wookie Foot Shuffle,” two instrumental-heavy tunes known to induce feet-stomping that again show off The Wooks musical versatility and adaptiveness to jam out and improvise. Even with the group’s exceptional knack for improvisation Hancock said in the future The Wooks are looking to focus even more on musical arrangements when they return to the studio.

“Allowing ourselves more time to work out musical arrangements will allow for a better expression of our creativity,” said Hancock. “Up to this point we’ve just been jamming.”

The Wooks have several Kentucky shows coming up, including performances at Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival Sept. 15 in Morehead, Kickin’ it on the Creek Sept. 17 in Irvine, and a show back in Lexington at Willie’s with the Caleb Klauder band Nov. 17. “Little Circles” is a must listen for fans of bluegrass, whether you enjoy the old-timey classics like Bill Monroe and John Hartford or new-age, progressive bluegrass from Yonder Mountain String Band, Town Mountain and others. 

Kentucky oftentimes doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for pumping out great musicians, but with the recent breakthroughs of Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Joan Shelley, and now The Wooks, it might be time for a musical microscope to fall over the bluegrass state once again.