There is much to savour in this marvellous mesh of ideas and styles from San Francisco-based five-piece Blind Willies. Musically it calms, soothes and lulls, while lyrically it refuses to blend into the background. The common thread is the languid, laid-back charm of contemporary Americana, but the tangents are rock, jazz, blues with a smattering of eastern European folk influences. Thematically the songs deal with notions of freedom and its counterpoints — be they oppression, apathy or desperation. This is not an album that is easily ignored.
The startling opener Cremo Tango was inspired by Tadeusz Borowski’s autobiographical second world war short story collection, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, and at a more immediate level by singer/songwriter Alexei Wajchman’s visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau a few years ago. A dark, eerie, dizzy tango envelops a stark, growled refrain that borrows from the story’s title; it’s a strange thing to enjoy, yet it has a hypnotic, absorbing quality that provokes thought as well as pleasure.
The album proceeds in a fashion akin to being engaged in a rambunctious conversation with a particularly passionate debater. It’s enjoyable because their tone is vibrant and sonorous and snippets of the argument make perfect sense. Personal, political and religious freedom should triumph all ideas, the fact that it doesn’t gives songwriters an endless reason to create albums like this. The songwriting is strong both lyrically and musically, with the folk-rock drive of I Need A Woman and the rolling melodies of Steal Away standing out.
The dedications to Pete Seeger, Maurice Sendak, Lou Reed, and Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who saved thousands of children from being exterminated during the second world war, indicate the range of influences and ideas that bring this sparkling album to life.
Review by: Rachel Devine