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(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/5/2009)
In recent years, there has been a spate of younger bands plunging into old styles that long pre-date rock. They include the Asylum Street Spankers, the Born Again Floozies, Devotchka, and quite a few others. This week we have another of those groups who show their influence by jug band music, old pre-swing jazz, and early country music. They are the Wiyos, and their new fourth CD is called Broken Land Bell.
The Wiyos are from Brooklyn, and have been together for about six years now. They started as trio and would often do music written in the period of their influence, but have since expanded to a quartet, and their new CD is all original music. And with those original songs comes a rather wide range of unlikely influences while still sounding as if the music could have come off a 78 rpm record. They invite in a couple of guests, including a verbal percussionist who specializes in making hip-hop style sounds. They also move into clever lyrics some of which were inspired by the current state of affairs.
The Wiyos, who were named after a notorious late 19th century Irish gang in New York, consist of Michael Farkas who does harmonica, vocals and a collection of percussion instruments; Parrish Ellis, who plays the antique-sounding resophonic guitars, tenor banjo and ukulele, as well as doing vocals; and Joseph DeJarnette, who plays mainly acoustic bass and sings, but also adds some of the sonic interest the band provides, with such things as playing a Victrola and the like. Rounding out the group is Freddie Weber, who also plays guitars, including a variety of steel guitars, some of which also sound antique, and some horns, as well as vocals. Adam Matta is the guest "human beat-box" as he is listed in the credits. While the band features generally old-time instrumentation, on this CD they are not afraid to go electric with some fuzzed out guitar and amplified blues-style harmonica.
The CD's title Broken Land Bell, is an apparent reference to their home town. There's a book of poetry about Brookyn called "Broken Land." Despite the occasionally melancholy tone of some of the lyrics, this is a good-time kind of CD that is both very retro in outward sound, but also quite imaginative.
Leading off is a piece called Roll On Down the Road, one of those musician-on-the-road songs. The band tours extensively, having driven over 400,000 miles so far, according to their bio. Adam Matta does his verbal percussion, adding an interesting, touch. It becomes a bit of creative anachronism. <<>>
With a decidedly more nostalgic sound is Promenade with its reference to an old-fashioned night out at a dance. <<>>
On the other end of the spectrum is a track called Stomp, with Matta's vocal percussion and the alternative-rock style distorted vocals. <<>>
One of the more upbeat and downright fun songs is All Aboard. The Wiyos take do a train song. <<>>
One of the band's original compositions that thoroughly evokes the sound of old pre-World-War II novelty songs is Dontchletemcatchya. The story of a fugitive also evokes some hints of Western Swing with its steel guitar. <<>>
On the other hand, one of the more unusual tracks on the CD is Don't Spill the Sugar, which again features Matta's beat-box mouth percussion prominently, while there is odd mix of spaciness with the sound of the old-time resonator guitar. <<>>
The Wiyos get positively atmospheric on the song Red Bird, with some African thumb piano and an almost new age sonic aura... <<>> before the piece turns 180 degrees and sounds like an old brass band. <<>>
The CD ends with a nostalgic-sounding waltz with cryptic lyrics called Valentina. The band throws in some quirky percussion aided by circus composer Sxip Shirey who puts in a guest appearance. <<>>
Broken Land Bell the new fourth CD by the eclectic Brooklyn-based quartet the Wiyos is a fun recording of ostensibly nostalgic retro music that goes in a lot of different directions, with a surprisingly eclectic set of ingredients that come together. The group has been touring extensively, and recently has been appearing at some high-profile gigs, opening for Bob Dylan and John Mellencamp on several stops on their tour. So this may well provide the group with opportunities for wider audiences than a wildly eclectic band like the Wiyos would normally have. From all reports their stage show is quite entertaining. But this CD does take advantage of the studio to provide a lot of interesting touches.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The mix is quite good, and the disparate sonic effects are well handled. The group's bassist Joseph "Joebass" DeJarnette was the recording and mix engineer, so it was a largely self-contained project. Fortunately, there was no attempt to make the CD sound like a technically deficient old recording. But the usual points will be deducted for the volume compression done in mastering to make the CD artificially loud.
Most of the very retro bands on the scene these days have their own angle on the nostalgia sound, but the Wiyos are probably the most skillfully eclectic, having fun mixing the old with hints of the new while maintaining a cliché-free, coherent and organic sound. It's a CD well-suited for brightening up one's day.
(c) Copyright 2009 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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