Posts Tagged ‘thewelcomewagon’

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red”

Thursday, January 29th, 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!

Track 12: DEEP WERE HIS WOUNDS, AND RED
words: W. Johnson
music: Vito Aiuto
“Deep Were His Wounds, and Red”

The final track on the record brings us back to the blood. Much like vampires, this is every preachers’ foremost preoccupation. The gruesome denouement of “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red” emerges as a quiet bluesy dirge, settling comfortably in the folk songs of the Appalachian mountains. However far we’ve plunged into the frolicking festivities of heaven, we’re always met with the steadfast image of the crucifixion—blood, guts, sweat, tears, dehydration, and torture—a gory still life festooned on a bucolic hill called Calvary. This song also acts as our procedural set piece. Verse 1: Vito conjures a simple song. Verse 2: Vito nudges his wife into the mix. Verse 3: Sufjan shows up with his microphones and recording device, imposing a prancing-dancing symphony of sounds and sights, ala brass and piano arrangements, swooping harmonies, glissandos, all the pageantry of a Broadway musical. Sorry friends, I did it again. Spoiled a perfectly good song! Well, that about sums up the producer’s lament. Better luck next time….

If you’ve got a taste for the more traditional, check out Leland Bernard Steren’s modular take on William Johnson’s original text here. A box of rocks, if you ask me.

deepwerehiswoundsandred

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “I am a Stranger”

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

superstar2

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!

Track 11: I AM A STRANGER
words: Mercer’s Cluster of Spiritual Songs
music: Vito Aiuto
“I am a Stranger”

The clamoring climax to this liturgical record finds itself compounding a Sacred Harp hymn with the spectacle of Broadway Theater by superimposing the catchy 5/4 pop motif from Jesus Christ Superstar (“Everything’s Alright”) onto a timid dirge of spiritual alienation aptly titled “I Am A Stranger.” The choir is unhinged, the drums reverberate to the rafters, and guitar solos bellow above the rooftops. And you all know how much I love 5/4. The Welcome Wagon compresses the stress and anxieties of estrangement with the festive tromp of a parade. Fear and self-loathing go head to head with the glorious rapture of the heavens, the primeval of man sulking in his sin pitted against the romping refrain of the universe, conjuring a cosmic boxing match between good and evil. Finally, Vito gets his wish! Ringside seats at Madison Square Garden, the epic bout of infinite mysteries, God and Satan dressed in silk shorts and padded gloves, clenching mouth pieces, throwing punches! And, of course, the chance to channel hot Christian hippies playing Jesus and Gang on the big screen ! See, this album does have it all:
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The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Jesus”

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

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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!

Track 10: JESUS
words and music: Lou Reed
“Jesus”

A remarkable feat of vindication occurs in the Welcome Wagon’s earnest interpretation of Lou Reed’s “Jesus,” a Velvet Underground classic. Tugged free of any latent irony, this docile prayer transcends its own maudlin poetry with the deadpan gravity of its inquest. The stupefying repetition of its namesake here is augmented with brassy embellishments, hammerhead drumming, and a soulful sponge bath from the choir unleashing its jostling, peripatetic harmonies at last. Such religious theater! But what of the expressionless-post-modernism of the Velvet Underground so heedlessly sabotaged by the grand inquisition of heavenly voices? Shucks! Has irony been put to death again, for the billionth time this year?! Please no!

The Velvet Underground’s original:
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We Love You Mo Tucker!

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Half a Person”

Monday, January 26th, 2009

louder-than-bombs-thumb

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!

Track 9: HALF A PERSON
words: Stephen Morrissey
music: Johnny Marr

If religious music irks you, then the most unlikely cover on the record—the Smith’s clever and beguiling “Half a Person”—will surely satisfy your craving for some perverse fun. What draws a preacher and his wife to cover this convoluted pop song of teenage rebellion? You’ll have to ask Vito, a longtime Smiths fan. Call it a whim. The original song is actually an epic/poetic feat disguised as a brooding ballad: with its breathtaking cinematic scope of a narrative; its unpredictable stampede of chord changes; its rambunctious poetry of teen angst; its circuitous wordplay.  The clumsy tragedy and treachery of a teenage runaway may seem like odd fodder for a religious album—but it fits snugly in the comprehensive theme of knowing God and knowing self—as a song of distress, of the search for identity, of palpable sensual proclivities, the pallid morbidity of addiction. For those of us all bent out of shape with nostalgia, sure, we might miss the ironic laziness of The Smiths’ original. To make matters worse, we’ve provided an overgrown electronic remix of the song (ala Poodle Puff Dada), which—to teenage hearts all across the globe—might come off as the greatest sacrilege of the century. Poor Morrissey! Loosen up, old friend! We love you to death!

“Half a Person,” by The Welcome Wagon:
“Half a Person”

Half a Person, by The Smiths
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Half a Person (Poodle Puff Dada remix):
“Half a Person (Remix)”

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “American Legion,” “You Made My Day”

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

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Monique’s Grandma

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!

Track 7: AMERICAN LEGION
words and music: Vito Aiuto
American Legion

Track 8:  YOU MADE MY DAY

words and music: Vito Aiuto
You Made My Day

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!

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “But For You Who Fear My Name”

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

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Lenny Smith (View his homepage here)

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!

Track 6: BUT FOR YOU WHO FEAR MY NAME
words and music: Lenny Smith

“But For You Who Hear My Name” brings it all back to the Smith clan in southern New Jersey, this time honoring the patriarch, the great liturgical songwriter Lenny Smith (most famous for his 1970s church hit “Our God Reigns,” which was rumored to have been one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite protestant hymns; it was often heard piped from the Pope-mobile!). “But For You…” might be a minor Lenny Smith work, comparatively, but it is certainly one of his best party jams. Our interpretation was to take a classic country song-and-dance routine and transform it into a gospel jamboree, toppling over with drunken trombones, handclaps, and a rambunctious choir. This catchy round captures all the scholarly whims typical of a great Lenny Smith song, homing in on the crux of spiritual joy (symbolized as calves jumping from their stalls) and besmirching spiritual piety for a healthy dose of nonchalance. It’s both casual and scholastic all rolled up in one party ball. (You can almost hear Lenny’s idiomatic refrain: “God in Heaven, we’re all doing the best we can. Relax!”)

Here’s Lenny’s festive original, from his 1995 release “Deep Calls to Deep.” (And we all love Brother Daniel’s harmonies on this one!):
Lenny Smith Version

We left the country vibe at the door and invited some good ol’ foot stomping/hand clapping to up the ante:
But For You Who Fear My Name

The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”

Thursday, January 22nd, 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!

Track 5: HAIL TO THE LORD’S ANOINTED
words: James Montgomery
music: Vito Aiuto
Hail to the Lord\’s Anointed

“Hail To the Lord’s Anointed,” a paraphrase of psalm 72, is a litany of Judaic exultations enumerating, with grand poetic lyricism, the many roles of the God Messiah— Breaker of Oppression, Freer of Captives, Reliever of Transgression, Ruler of Equity, Song-giver, Helper of the poor and needy, Sower of Love, Peace-giver, flower of righteousness. In any other context, the vague abstract exclamations would grow tedious: Never, Forever, Love, Joy, Hope! Like most religious fervor, it all begins to collapse under the weight of its own significance. But Monique’s unembellished accent (delivered with the plainsong of a Midwestern recitation) uncovers luxurious epiphanies with such steadfast matter-of-factness that even the grandest of clichés begins to sound equitable, noble, and wise.

James Montgomery’s original text has been set to a few different accompaniments, but, to my ears, they all have that same claustrophobic, Germanic stuffiness of church pews and tight collars. Not my bag.

Let’s help boost this poor organist’s hits on Ye Ol’ YouTube:

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Or, if Midi’s your game.