A minor-league baseball stadium fills slowly with people. Off in the distance, ships of all kinds and whatfors harbor. Their masts sail high into the baking heat. Seated for a minute in the shade with two pipefitters and a rocket scientist, I spy a madcap jester, dancing and prancing, all vaudeville and high time. He has a sign, which is white and composed of four folding rectangles. He feigns to open the board and show the crowd butegad!it is upside down, then wrongside up, then backside front. I laugh into a glass of Yuengling and catch a glimpse of the word Wiyos, written in tape or some such on the high side of the cheap sign. I squeeze the rocket scientists thigh, then think how in a couple hours I will see the most important man in the world: Bob Dylan. A few minutes later, the Wiyos take the stage, looking and sounding like the opening act for a burlesque show. The boogie-woogie toe-tapping thwack-whack-wham is on. The band shakes, shimmies, flits, and flams: the jester with the sign is Michael Farkas, who sings and plays harmonica alongside Teddy Weber, who sings and plays pedal steel guitar; Joseph Dejarnette, who plays bass; and Parrish Ellis, who sings and chugga-chugs on a resophonic guitar. The sum of their efforts is a natural choreography that spawns a knot of jumps, jives, and struts on the dance floor/center field.
Even though their stage show is elaborate and involved, it translates perfectly onto their new album, Broken Land Bell. Full of pleasantries and jocularities, the album is their first recording of all-original material, and it should earn the Wiyos a spin on Victrolas all across the land. Named for a gang of cutpurses and sneak thieves who menaced Manhattan in the late 19th century, the Wiyos have been beating out that sweet swinging music for six years. A 1,000 shows and 400,000 miles earned them a rightful slot opening for Dylan, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp on their summer tour. They are a band that will give you dirty Chicago blues, barbershop quartet harmonies, and old-time country melodies, sometimes within the same song. You might hear a human beatbox, or perhaps a mouth trumpet, a mbira, or a washboard.
Take the song Promenade, which swanks, swaggers, and squawks in the bygone music-making way. The fine voices of these fine gentlemen call and answer: Promenade (promenade) say here we go, Ill rise to the call. Jitterbug (Lindy Hop) what ya got? (Not a lot.) Sail away my thoughts. One instinctively reaches for his dearest to spin her out on the floor in the full swing of a Saturday Social. A bit later on the album, we hear Uncork the Whiskey, which could be mistaken for a song from the Grand Ole Opry circa 1954. The song begins with these high and lonesome words: The saying goes that many men were lost for lack of love. Lonely girls will look for signs in the stars above. But that dont mean a thing to me, and Ive heard it all before. The only girl to hold my heart just dropped it on the floor. Uncork the whiskey. Pass the bottle round. Tonight Im drinking til the last drops down. You dont know misery, not like I do. So uncork the whiskey, Ill take a drink for you. The pedal steel guitar, harmonica, thumping bass, and comfort-food harmonies make it hard to figure a device known as an iPodand not a gramophoneis playing the track. Add some scratchiness, and the album could pass for an early recording of Lefty Frizzells. Throw in a few wisecracks, W. C. Fields style, and you might think youre hearing a historical recording of a bawdy revue from some back alley speakeasy or cabaret. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, this is still a modern album with depth and complexity. Its just not obsessed with the abstruse nature of post-modern life like so many indie recordings. Instead, the Wiyos dig deep and wide into the entirety of American music to create a clean, pleasant sound. Perhaps they were hand-picked by Dylanperhaps not. Either way, the Wiyos are a serious picnic, and Broken Land Bell is their invite that awaits your rndez s’il vous pla
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