Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Unwieldies - Always the Optimist

Wasting little time, this is the second album from Las Vegas' premier acoustic act in less than a year. I thought that Let's Grow Old and Strange Together was pretty special, and this one shows their growth and expansion of sound - I'm looking forward to hearing these tunes live at their record release show this week!

The album has several guests to add seasonings to the proceedings, including Danielle (vocals/acoustic guitar) and Rob's (stand-up bass/mandolin/vocals) talented daughter Bijou on percussion, Richard Wells on dobro, Jason Edwards on piano and Gene Howley (from the Gentlemen of Four Outs) on clarinet and saxophones. Of course, Jack Bell is still here on violin and guitar, as well.

The opening "I Told You So" is a lovely, dobro-driven piece of Unwieldies folk while the title track is an early Americana bit with piano, clarinet and sultry torch-song vocals from Danielle. "Bad Seeds" is a more up-beat, violin-led duet between Danielle and Rob - kinda folk-garage to my ears (nice percussion additions from Bijou and, of course, Jack is stellar) - and then they do a nice reading of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows". Rob takes lead vocals for "Tongue Tied", which has some cool interaction between dobro and violin, and the somewhat caustic "It's Not Me, It's You" has truly lovely harmonies from the Bells, as well as a light, but driving, rhythm from Bijou.

Another jazzy torch song, essentially just Danielle and Rob's stand-up, is the sweet "As Long As I Have Breath", and then they change course again in "Nicotine Kid", sounding old-timey with Rob singing an ode to smoking (which he does not do) with Gene layering saxophones over a swingin' beat. Back to a quiet folk number in "Rain Damage" and, appropriately, Rob & Danielle trade off and harmonize on "We Compliment". There's a kinda sea-chanty/Tom Waits-ian feel to "Heaven's Just Not the Right Fit" (with Rob on lead again) and they close out with more terrific harmonies on "Whiskey in Hand" (with one of my fave lines ever - "down in the alcohol of fame") and we even get to hear Rob's mandolin again.

I really love the songwriting here and the performances are pretty damn exceptional, as well, Folk music with plenty of varied influences, humor and attitude. If you're not afraid of wooden music, you need to hear the Unwieldies!