400 bears, the solo folk, Americana and blues project of guitarist and songwriter Paul Wilkinson (Mason Porter) will release its self-titled debut album 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 the Taj Mahal and the omnipresence of Bob Dylan in the life of the songwriter. 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 dreams can come true. It turned out to be a perfect way to close the record. 400 Bears was produced by Grammy-nominated Glenn Ferracone and recorded live at the Music Center 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 support 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’re both top cats who can use their talents in any direction to serve the melody. We’ve got a good groove.
The acoustic line-up includes Pat Hughes (formerly of Mason Porter) on drums, Brad Hinton (a frequent duo partner of Wilkinson) on dobro, and Charlie Muench (Joe Hillman Band, The Stray Birds) on bass.
The album kicks off with the groovy, organ-heavy, “Borderline” that would be right at home on one of Levon Helm’s Midnight Rambles and sets the tone for the rest of the 400 Bears debut – it’s easy to put them together. imagine performing on the stages of festivals around the world. “Memories” begs the question, “Do I make memories, or do my memories make me?” and features Wilkinson’s signature electric guitar work and the ensuing “Holy Place” is an American twang tune anchored by Hinton’s dobro licks. “Holy Place” is a great example of how I just had a line that kept repeating in my head, “This is a holy place where things come and go,” Wilkinson says. “That just seems to be how things are going?” The lyrics vary from universal things to concrete and what was literally happening in front of me. ‘I have problems with my wifi but my stereo is HiFi, Got Johnny at Folsom Jail is nothing I miss’… I had problems with my wifi and was going crazy when I watched my stereo and vinyl copy of Johnny Cash at Folsom Jail sat in front.
“Take It Slow” continues to ride the American vibe and “Cold Situation” transitions beautifully into a sparse melody showcasing Wilkinson’s love of blues and folk music. “80s Mercedes” and “Small Town” are dance-inspired beats in the aisles of future 400 Bears shows, while “Annie Hall” and “Good Bear” hark back to Wilkinson’s folk roots. The traditional “Take This Hammer” is the album’s beautiful folk finale and the only track featuring producer Glenn Ferracone on drums and his son, Luke Ferracone, on electric guitar.