Sunday, January 25th, 2009
I’m by no means an authority on the musicology of religious music, or any music for that matter. But I won’t wait around for an honorary degree from Union Theological Seminary to delve into a flighty dissection of the Welcome Wagon’s debut collection of cover songs and hymns, which, on closer inspection, begins to unravel an inspiring excursion through the landscape of the sacred and profane. I should know; I produced the album. And like many overly anxious producers, I’ve lately felt the motivation to impart my own brand of “rumors and ruminations” on some of the material I helped facilitate on this transcendental record. This sidebar post is meant as my own opinionated primer—a navigational brochure, per se—on the songs that appear on this new collection of “church music.” Happy journeys, godly listeners of the world!
The Welcome Wagon is not all grave piety. A refreshing trio of non-sacred numbers wrangles free of the yoke of religion. “American Legion,” another Welcome Wagon original, conjures a collage of fading memorabilia—letters, T-shirts, Midwestern snow, the lonely steps of the veteran’s hall in small town America—to evoke a sleepwalking daydream of apologies. An arresting choral refrain of soprano singers and a lap steel guitar mimic the sentiment without the least bit of irony. “You Made My Day” (another original here) loosens the necktie and rolls up the shirtsleeves for a cavalier horse trot of downbeats, as if to simulate the casual cadences of a phone conversation. In this instance, it is the painful heartache of talking to a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s (the same sweet grandmother, coincidentally, who supplied much of the gorgeously odd Bible School/funeral card paraphernalia for the album art. Thank you Grandma!). In this song, ordinary observations—remnants of snow in spring, a red handkerchief, the recounting of a bad dream—compound loving-kind colloquialisms with the tragicomic repetition of a mind receding into forgetfulness. But the tragedy here is painted with careful, affectionate gestures, invoking repetition as a means of love and affirmation. We love our grandmas, wherever you are, in outer-space-heaven-after life, or in front of the TV!