Friday, February 17, 2006

Wooden Wand's Gipsy Freedom

The title of the new Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice album, Gipsy Freedom, might give you pause: how can you not imagine a disc full of eastern European Gypsy music, perverted by indie-hippie experimentalists? You fear that you'll be disenchanted by some sort of Freak Gypsy Avant-Folk, and prepare listen to Wooden Wand with a Vanishing Attention Span. So you pop the disc in, expecting jingly percussion to pop out at you immediately. What you get, though, is an arresting downtempo Trane-influenced sax intro with strong feminine vocal.

Did I accidentally put the wrong CD in the jewel case?

The second track, Didn't it Rain, begins, and, ah - there's the gipsy music. There's the percussion and there are the rhythmic strings you knew were coming. And it is Wooden Wand, so there is a fair amount of perversion that goes on in this nearly 11-minute experiment. What you're not ready for is the brass, psychedelic electric guitar, and the chanted "Didn't it rain, rain, rain, my lord..." that sounds like Kate Bush singing as a documentary on free jazz in Pakistan plays in the background, a guitarist practices solos next door, and a UFO sits on the lawn.

And then, Don't Love the Liar (mp3) surprises you as a pretty straightforward, accessible, short (1:37!) song with a classic rock feel. And that's when you realize that Gipsy Freedom has nothing to do with the spirit of geographical travel, but is a stylistic musical journey through time, and it covers a hell of a lot of terrain. This is no Harem of the Sundrum & the Witness Fig, an album that held together as an experimental folk-americana record, though the fingerpicking on the foreboding, brilliant Dread Effigy (mp3), which has replaced Dogpaddlin' Home to Live With My Lord (mp3) as my favorite WWVV song, would have fit nicely with Perch Modifier (mp3). In Gipsy Freedom, you have no idea what musical ground you'll be standing on from one track to the next, and in some cases, from one moment to the next.

And yet, you always look forward to that next moment. The album holds together, with some enchanting thread that you can't hear or see, much less grasp. Confounding? Yes. But it's strangely satisfying to be confounded in this way.

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