Burlap Wolf King
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Burlap Wolf King

Sioux Falls, SD | Established. Jan 01, 2007 | INDIE

Sioux Falls, SD | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2007
Band Americana Rock




"New vinyl album fulfills dream for Burlap Wolf King"

There’s something extremely special about a local artist releasing a record on vinyl.

That’s not because vinyl is the current hipster-ish trendsetting format. It’s because a vinyl release is a completely different and more elaborate method of releasing music.

Anybody can burn a few CDs at home. A click of a keyboard can send files to all of the online services. Vinyl records, however, require an investment. This investment is not just the additional cost of pressing the release. It’s also an investment in the time necessary to master the material for the format, along with approving test pressings, coordinating the printing of the artwork, and sometimes even manually placing the records into the sleeves.

There is also a permanence in a record release that guarantees it will continue to live on for future generations to discover. Decades from now, any local vinyl pressings will be found in record stores, just as one still routinely finds records by the likes of Myron Lee, Wakefield, No Direction, and Ill Bill and the Spinal Chills.

Thomas Hentges with Burlap Wolf King gets ready to perform at the 2016 JazzFest in Sioux Falls. (Photo: Argus Leader file photo)
The new record by Burlap Wolf King, “Bitter Honey,” certainly deserves this sort of permanent place in the history of Sioux Falls releases. The third album under the Burlap Wolf King moniker is a testament to Thomas Hentges’ growing stature as a songwriter and performer. The record bounces around multiple genres and influences, yet no track feels out of place or out of step. The transitions from folk to jazz to garage rock are natural and held together by Hentges’ deep, soulful vocals.

As a music nerd, Hentges admits he was thrilled when he finally got to hold a copy of “Bitter Honey.”

“This is the third time I’ve had something on vinyl, but the first time I’ve had a full-length on vinyl. It’s huge," he said. "It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s just another one of those things that you don’t think is going to happen, so it’s kind of cool to have the access to make it happen.”

Hentges is especially pleased that the vinyl version of “Bitter Honey” beautifully showcases Altman Studeny’s exquisite cover art. “Altman and myself spent an hour over beers just chatting all things special about South Dakota. Very little was discussed about design and layout specifics. It was more of a stream of consciousness about things representing our home state. I had admired his work for a while now and was confident he would pull together something incredible. And he did!”

Question: Let’s set the scene a bit. When it comes time to write a song, where do you go? Is there any kind of ritual to make yourself comfortable?

Answer: Being by myself is usually pretty critical. I’m almost always at home in my apartment. I usually write in my living room, but nobody can be home. That’s probably because it comes when it comes, and you have to be pretty attentive when it comes. When it does come, you don’t want to be distracted whatsoever because you’re afraid if you’ll be distracted that kind of stream will be done. I’m a big believer in that process. I also write in a way where I’ll put together a song by strumming on my guitar, and then I’ll come up with a melody. With the melody in mind, then I’ll write the lyrics. At that point, there are a lot of holes that you have to jump through, especially once you get the melody and you’ve got your consonants sounded out. But all those things kind of come when they come, and you have to capture them. A good songwriter is a good editor a lot of the times. Some people may not edit what they do when it comes out. However, when they’re originally doing it they at least know what’s good and what’s not.

Q: Do you know ahead of time what you want a song to say?

A: Yeah, sometimes. There are times I walk into something and I specifically know this is what I’m writing about. This is what I want to get across. I’d say it’s about 50-50. There are times when I write songs that i don’t know completely what they’re about. Like I don’t know exactly what the lyrics to “Thunderhead” mean, to be completely honest. I have ideas, and it’s kind of fun as the time goes by to maybe reexamine what exactly I’m getting at, you know? I think a lot of people feel that way at some point about some of their tunes.

Q: As you’re compiling songs, how do you know when you have exactly what you want to represent you on a record?

A: For me, I’m not an extremely prolific writer. I don’t write big bunches. I’m not always writing. To me, when you get to somewhere between 12 and 14 cohesive songs that feel like they’re an album, you go in and record 12 songs or so and usually end up with 10. We had a song on this record that we were going to include that we cut because of the length of the vinyl. It would have fit in just fine, but it was like a seven-, eight-minute song. It just didn’t fit on the record when you’re trying to keep it under 44 minutes.

Q: Let’s talk about some of the individual songs. I want to start with “Headlights.” This is to me a song like no other on the record. Most of the tracks are folk or blues-oriented, but this is a straight-ahead garage rocker.

A: I wanted to do something really simple. Like you said, it has a garage-rock feel, and a lot of that is because of that surfy-rock hook that Adam (Jones) throws down on the guitar. I had wrote the song on an acoustic, and I knew it was going to be dirtier than anything else we did. I told the guys that I wanted something that was like Wilco meets the Velvet Underground. I think we accomplished it in some respects. It still sounds like what we do. That song is really fun, too, because the lyrics to that song are a little different than the lyrics to any of the other tracks. It’s just kind of stream of consciousness. I wrote that one very quickly.

Q: Another highlight is the ragtime/jazz-influenced “Yellow Belly Bawdy Blues.”

A: I always heard it that way. Musically speaking, when I wrote the progression, I envisioned somewhere like Montana in the 1930s. Ragtime meets big band is going on on the coast but hadn’t really reached them. They’re still in this Old West, saloon-y kind of vibe, but it has a little rag and early jazz elements. I wanted it to have that feel. I think we pulled it off mostly because of the talents of Alexander Olson on the keys. Adam’s guitar part is great, too. It makes the whole thing swing. Jeffrey Paul plays the oboe solo. He’s a phenomenal musician. Lyrically, I wrote that one not this past winter but the winter prior. In the winter, I listen to a lot more hip-hop than I do the rest of the year. It’s weird. I listen to mostly Americana, classic kind of stuff and hip-hop. So the edgier, angrier lyrics are influenced by hip-hop. I knew I always wanted to write something about this particular antagonist in the song, and this seemed to be the appropriate song. It was fun to write. It was a release.

Q: There’s also a song about your wife, Alix. “Strawberries and Sage” has a nice Stax-ish feel to it.

A: Yep, it’s totally about Alix. I wrote that song on a West River trip. I had the song, and with that melody it had to be a love song, which are the hardest ones to write. They end up sounding cheesy half the time. I really think that is what’s unique about the song. It has that old soul vibe to it, but the lyrics are really true to our area. But it really describes Alix in a lot of ways. It’s a tribute to her, and a lot of the traits I love about her come out in that song.

Q: The first single, “Thunderhead,” has some nice jangly guitar. It’s sort of the most traditional Americana tune on the album.

A: We heard the song as kind of a Fleetwood Mac thing, really. That’s how we really approached it, and I think most Americana bands delve into that era of Fleetwood Mac. We were talking about Whiskeytown’s “Pneumonia” the other day, and that has a pure (Fleetwood Mac) vibe. That was where I was wanting to go with it a little bit, so it was heavily influenced by that. It’s definitely a pop/rock song, but again it’s still cohesive and fits with the rest of the record. It’s still the same band, and we have that certain sound. A lot of people these days honestly stray from the idea of trying to write melody or a hooky chorus like that. It’s not a coincidence that the songs that stand the test of time have things like that.

Q: Talk about the recording a bit.

A: We recorded with Mike Dresch here in town at Cathouse Studios. I just felt really strongly about the songs, to the point where I knew I wanted them to be produced cleanly. I wanted to record them in a way where I had confidence that in the end they’d sound good. That they wouldn’t sound stale, and I knew we’d get a good product. I knew that working with Mike we’d get that because he’s been doing it for long. In the past, we’d home-recorded, but with this we wanted to step it up and do this because I felt so strongly about the recording, and I felt it was OK to spend a little cash to make it happen. In the end, I’m pretty damned satisfied with the thing, and that’s a real testament to Mike’s work and him really listening to what we had to say. If there was a producer, I’d say it was myself, but he certainly engineered and had a lot of input when we asked for it. But he was very cool about just letting us do what we do. It was cool to be in an environment that also allowed Adam to just play guitar and be a musician without having to engineer like he had been in the past. It was really important this time around to let him concentrate on that end and not have to worry about all that other stuff. I think we learned a lot, and this new group in particular learned a lot about ourselves and how we work in the studio. We’ve got some pretty interesting ideas moving forward.

Q: Was this all completed in a concentrated time period?

A: We started with a good, fat weekend chunk in October, but we didn’t finish until early January. We were almost done in early December, but due to the horn guys being involved in the Holiday Jam and stuff, we weren’t able to finish it until after the holidays.

Q: Friday is the big release show. Do you have anything special planned for the evening?

A: I think it’s going to be a special night for a lot of reasons. It’s a huge celebration of what I feel is the best work I’ve ever done, and I’m excited to get it out there after all of these months waiting. Creative people are sensitive, generally, and I don’t like having three and a half months to sit there and pine over it without any reaction. I’m really excited for that aspect of it. We’ve got our friend Sean McFarland’s new outfit opening. They played an unannounced show opening for Night Move at Total Drag last week to kind of get the kinks out a little bit. They were great. I was really impressed. I also invited DJ Absolute to get the whole thing started with a classic hip-hop DJ set. That will be a lot of fun. ‘87-’97 is my idea of the golden era of hip-hop. I think it will be a nice way for people to just ease their way into the night. - Argus Leader

"Album review: Burlap Wolf King's 'Bitter Honey'"

On "Bitter Honey," the third album by Sioux Falls' Burlap Wolf King, Thomas Hentges and company successfully pull off two frequently attempted but rarely achieved objectives: They’ve made an album that sounds unique, but also familiar. An album that encompasses a multitude of styles and genres while still working as a singular, cohesive piece of music.

Even for those in Sioux Falls who are familiar with Hentges and Burlap Wolf King, "Bitter Honey" will come as a revelation – a bold step forward for a songwriter (Hentges) who refuses to let his relative anonymity prevent him from swinging for the fences. BWK’s previous recordings – 2009’s "The Middle" and a 2013 self-titled EP, showed promise. "Bitter Honey" is a fully realized execution of Hentges’ musical vision and the bands’ capabilities. While the hope is that "Bitter Honey" can attract attention beyond their home city and state, even if it doesn’t, the record feels a little bit like the band is showing off. It’s bursting with a confidence that almost seems unearned, but ultimately is.

BWK dives headfirst into blues, jazz, country, psychedelic rock, gospel and soul, and if that sounds clichéd ("Oh, look, another band that has diverse tastes in music and thinks they can put them all together on a record"), understand Hentges is aware of the risk involved in casting such a wide net, and BWK successfully navigates the path of hopping across genres within the album. They aren’t mixing it up for mixing it up’s sake – they’re doing it because they have the songs to do so effectively.

Burlap Wolf King takes giant leap forward with 'Bitter Honey'

The inevitable (and unfair) question that will always come up when a “local” band or artist releases a record is how that record compares to “nonlocal” music, or the mainstream. Make no mistake: "Bitter Honey" isn’t “good for a local band.” It’s simply good.

Sequenced for the vinyl format – the best songs are toward the middle, rather than the beginning – the record opens with the gospel-tinged title track, a brave decision on Hentges’ part, but it works. The bouncy "Yellow Belly Bawdy Blues" follows and raises the stakes (there's an oboe solo – really). The six-minute "Red, White and Blue" halts the momentum somewhat, but two songs later things pick up with "Strawberries & Sage." A staple of BWK live shows, "Strawberries & Sage," written for Hentges’ wife, Alix, felt like a folk song when performed live and solo but finds new life as an R&B/soul ballad with the full-band treatment.

That leads into the nearly flawless Side B of the album, kicked off by the first single, "Thunderhead." Radio-friendly pop/rock with one of BWK’s most memorable choruses, it’s among the band’s best work.

From there, the record scores with "Music Box," "Something You Can Afford to Leave Behind" and especially "The Gray in My Beard," another live staple that the band elevates from folk strummer to country shuffle. "You Can’t Be a Byrd if You Can’t Fly" serves not just as a strong closer, but an appropriate bookend alongside the title track.

"Bitter Honey" is a throwback to the album era, when a listener put on a piece of music – be it a vinyl record or compact disc – and settled in to listen to the whole thing front to back. At 10 songs and 40 minutes, it’s the appropriate length for that, and the songs hold up to repeated listens.

Hentges has said his band will ultimately be judged by the quality of their material, and what they’ve put together here is definitely impressive. Still, it should be noted that while the songs are good, so are the performances. Guitarist Adam Jones, bassist John "Slap" Myers, drummer Phil Mueller and Megan DeBoer (backing vocals) and Alex Olsen (keys, horns) are in fine form, but Hentges’ vocals are the highlight. He’s always been a gifted singer, but he’s at his best on "Bitter Honey," never missing a note, and bringing weight and soul to the best moments.

Will "Bitter Honey" break BWK through to the masses? Time will tell. But the band has undeniably made a great record, one that rivals the best works to come out of South Dakota. - Argus Leader


2017-Bitter Honey-Full Length LP/CD
2013-S/T-EP CD
2009-The Middle-Full Length CD



Burlap Wolf King, is the vessel of song of South Dakota based singer/songwriter, Thomas Hentges. Hentges performs solo as well as with band, both under the Burlap Wolf King moniker.

Throughout 10 active years, BWK has seen a rotating cast of characters.   2009's full length LP "The Middle" was followed up by 2013's live and acoustic-leaning "BWK" EP.  Now back with a decidedly solidified six-piece lineup, Hentges and company are stronger than ever. BWK's 2017 full-length offering, "Bitter Honey", is highlighted by a distinct leap forward in songwriting & style, all the while showcasing this new outfit's prowess and versatility both live and in the studio.
Over the years Burlap Wolf King has had the pleasure of opening the evening for the likes of Trampled By Turtles, Justin Townes Earle, The Hold Steady, Robert Ellis, Centro-Matic, William Elliot Whitmore, Sam Outlaw, The White Buffalo, The Cactus Blossoms, Night Moves, "Spider" John Koerner, Deadstring Brothers, Ryley Walker, Charlie Parr,  Moondoggies, Rose Windows, Brian Wright, Jack Klatt and many more.

Band Members