Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Welcome Wagon - Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Album Review)

(You can also check out a recent interview I did with Vito Aiuto here.)

While a church pastor and his wife forming a creatively eclectic musical duo specializing in well written originals, sacred songs and secular covers is an interesting enough story, this one’s made even better by the accompanying soundtrack. The Welcome Wagon has just released their second full-length release, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, and they’ve once again tapped in to the unique space they carved out for themselves on their debut album. Their inviting brand of acoustic-based folks songs are rounded out by a variety of horned, stringed and percussive instruments that continually entice the ears without ever being distracting. While some of the instrumental combinations might look odd on paper, the Reverend Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique are able to make them work together beautifully. In fact, more than a few parallels can be drawn between Vito’s musical mindset and his work as a pastor. The same way The Welcome Wagon makes beautiful music with seemingly opposing instrumental pairings, lyrical themes and song structures is the same way Vito approaches the blending of his church and his community. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices is full of songs that level the playing field for everyone involved and holds the door open to anyone who wants to join along. Whether written by an Irish monk in the 600s, a German Jesuit in the 1600s, a moody Englishman in the 1990s or a Brooklyn pastor in the 2010s, each song has an entry point and a connection point tying the album together and tying each listener to each other.

The Welcome Wagon writes in a variety of moods and tempos, but the bulk of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices exists in the folksy, laid-back feel of songs like “Would You Come and See Me in New York” and “Nature’s Goodnight.” Both songs are great examples of one of The Welcome Wagon’s coolest gifts. Their ability to seamlessly blend refreshingly uncluttered acoustic foundations with tastefully ornamental accompaniments is exemplified by the weepy pedal steel on the former and the swaying accordion on the latter. Whether trading off vocals or combining for a sweet duet, Vito and Monique compliment each other in both tone and vibe, creating a unique experience within each song. Their love for liturgical-based lyrics shows up in their own songwriting and in their choice of reimagined hymns, as heard in “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” “Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “Draw Nigh” and “The Strife is O’er.” This lyrical bent is also heard in the impressive “My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2,” a two-part medley made up of a Monique-led, lo-fi, choral folk first half and a Vito-led, vintage country-flavored ballad second half. When they’re not covering songs from many centuries ago, their choices still show impeccable musical taste, as evidenced by their takes on The Cure’s “High” and David Crowder’s “Remedy.”

For all the reflective, introspective moments, The Welcome Wagon know how and when to throw a party as well. Whether by coincidence or intention, their community-focused songs are also the up-tempo moments on the album. “I’m Not Fine” opens the album with an inclusive, “we’re all in this thing together” lyric powered by acoustic guitar, big drums and a sweetly jagged, ‘90s college rock guitar solo. “Rice and Beans (But No Beans)” bounces along as a down-home country singalong that trumpets the need to rally around each other during the “miserable soup, slotted spoon” hard times. “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” serves as a nice closing encouragement that also boasts the biggest, melodic moments with its sunshine ‘60s organ, surf guitar electric lines, bubbling bass, dancing drums and Partridge-esque background vocals. Though it’s not the album’s closing track, it certainly captures all the best ingredients that The Welcome Wagon offers in one inviting, fun track of flower power goodness. With Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, The Welcome Wagon has created a beautiful album of really great music and purposeful lyrics that exists within a unique space of creativity and invitation. Precious remedies indeed.  

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