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Published: 2008/11/03
by Randy Ray

Resist Temptation – Harmonious Wail

Range 09

Django Reinhardt. Stephane Grappelli. Gypsy Swing. There you go. I needed to get those six words out of the way since the latest release by the Madison, Wisconsin jazz ensemble is more concerned with what came after the music created by the trendsetting guitarist and the mercurial violinist within that bohemian genre.

The Wail offers ten covers of material not often found within the gypsy jazz vein on this alluring and engaging release. Then again, Grappelli appeared on the title track of Pink Floyd’s 1975 album Wish You Were Here. Remember that brief random bit of violin right before David Gilmour’s acoustic guitar enters the mix? That’s Grappelli, so there is precedent for this sort of a marriage made in a traveling tent. However, the Wail expand on that gypsy debut of sorts into the other form of vagabond minstrel music by selecting tunes way outside the box.

Which is good because the quartet also has a penchant for circus sideshow imagery, and women who swallow swords. While many snarky, low-rent writers have chosen the big tent as a way to meditate on surreal pearls out on the literary prairie, the Wail invest this tableaux with a new, inspired focus by looking back at rock’s rootsy treasures. “Joie de Vivre” sets the tone immediately with a spirited vocal sung in French by Maggie Delaney-Potthoff as she evokes a lyrical one-act play, warm charm, and—well—joie de vivre, mon amie. Later, the Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun” is slowed down, and tweaked into a joyously sad sing-a-long, and the Wail delivers a majestic Oriental bluegrass raga by way of “Lung Shan Temple Chant,” which features fine mandolin pickin’ from Sims Delaney-Potthoff, and stellar violin work from guest musician, Howard Naughton, and, dude, really ties the album together.

Planted near the end of the album is the key to the highway as the Wail delivers a trio of sharp cuts. A very favorable stroll into “Home at Last” from Steely Dan’s Aja is followed by a reading of The Band’s “Unfaithful Servant” with an elegant slide solo from guest musician Chris Wagoner, but it is the gentle waltz of “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” written by Tom Waits, and featuring sublime piano work by Howard Levy, that closes the book in an adventurous way as the band finishes their unique ode to the music inspired by their chosen genre: a bit of gypsy swing, a dash of jazz, an ounce of rock n’ roll medicine show, and a smidgen of sword-swallowin’ bravado.

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