The Welcome Wagon - Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Digging deep into the vast and rich ore of American Gospel and Spirituals, the Welcome Wagon have produced a unique nugget of musical brilliance, mixing blues riffs, horn blasts, and lush orchestral arrangements into an album full of surprises. The two members of the Welcome Wagon are married couple Vito and Monique Aiuto who with America's musical wunderkind, Sufjan Stevens, have been recording songs together over near a decade and are only now releasing them as an album.
The material itself is unashamedly spiritual material, in a similar vein to Sufjan's own Seven Swans, but that should not put anyone off buying the album. Quite far from being pious but boring renditions of traditional hymns, each arrangement appears to be a heartfelt exploration of the lyrics. A few covers also appear such as Lou Reed's Jesus and the Smiths, Half a person as well as Danielson's Sold... (mp3 here). Surprisingly, these renditions work admirably well with a Tori Amos like knack to make the covers their own. Sincerity can only take you so far but the Aiutos' sense of decorum crossed with a large dose of self-deprecation avoids the pitfalls that beckons any project of this kind.
Songs like "But For You Who Fear My Name" or "Unless the Lord the house shall build" conjure up the majesty of sacred music with the Mammas and Pappas flair for pop harmony. Although Sufjanesque is not (yet) an adjective, it most certainly applies to this release. His fingerprints are all over the production from his trademark soft voices to the choral harmonies and intricate arrangements. Despite this, his presence does not drown out the unique personality of the Aiutos. Their musical style may be unlikely to find a mainstream audience, but this remains a deft record that manages to remain honest, genuine and appealing without submerging itself in schmaltz. A complete nightmare to market I would imagine but a delight to listen to.