Wingdale Community Singers,
Spirit Duplicator
(Scarlet Shame, 2009)

There's a tendency to associate folk music with rural life. The folk revival of the 1950s and '60s in America provides some credence for that viewpoint since it did have its roots in a predominately rural tradition. But a merger with more contemporary styles has fused an expanded community and emphasized political and social issues, which have no geographical limits.

The Wingdale Community Singers, with their roots in Brooklyn, N.Y., fuse those earlier rural and traditional values with a decidedly urban outlook. It's a mix that gives their debut album an ambitious and different sound, which can be gritty and disturbing but also offers some unexpected musical epiphanies. The album is an eclectic blend of Appalachian folk with gospel and rock.

Vocals are shared by singer-songwriter Hannah Marcus, who also plays piano; Rick Moody and Nina Katchadourian, both of whom also play acoustic guitar; and David Grubbs, a founding member of Squirrel Bait, who backs them up on electric guitar. There's additional support from Charles Burst, drums; Abe Streep, violin, mandolin; Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, acoustic bass; Nadje Noordhuis, trumpet; Gerald Menke, pedal steel and slide guitar; and Tianna Kennedy, cello.

The group began as friends just playing for fun. In a newspaper article, Moody said they were actually writing and rehearsing songs for more than six months before they decided to record -- and then only to preserve the spirit of what they were doing.

Best known as a novelist (The Ice Storm and Garden State, among others), Moody says they don't even consider themselves a real band, seldom tour and aren't overly concerned about stardom.

Some personal favorites among the 15 tracks include "Rancho de la Muerta," "Pofilia," "AWOL" and "My Les Paul" (Marcus's paean to her guitar). Nothing wrong with their tribute to the Carter Family's "Death is Only a Dream," either. It's all intelligent, witty and often funny music bound together by Marcus's lovely voice in harmony with her partners' and some fine instrumentation.

music review by
John Lindermuth

13 April 2013

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