armchair cultural observation since 1995

Welcome To The Welcome Wagon


The Welcome Wagon Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Asthmatic Kitty – Dec. 9, 2008
By Matthew Ralph

It apparently only took about a week for Asthmatic Kitty to sell out of its in-house stock of the first printing of Welcome Wagon’s debut full-length “Welcome To The Welcome Wagon.” Something tells me the glowing reviews and suggestion by some that it is essentially the latest Sufjan Stevens record may have had something to do with it.

Having written glowing reviews myself – both about the two rare live performances several years apart that they gave after first appearing on an Asthmatic Kitty compilation way back in 2001 – I was anxious and fortunate enough to get ahold of a copy from the first pressing.

The album, which is really worth buying in non-digital form because of its clever Sunday School-kitsch-style packaging, shouldn’t really offer too many surprises for anyone fortunate to have caught them live. What is does offer – other than the obvious Sufjan stamp of approval – is an enjoyable collection of quirky covers and tender-hearted originals executed in that chaotically visionary way that has endeared so many to Sufjan’s style in recent years.

Whether it’s the soulful choir of voices backing “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red” and “Jesus,” the retro showtune-esque renditions of The Smiths ‘”Half A Person” and Danielson’s “Sold! To The Rich Man” or the sparse banjo-led hymn sing of “He Never Said A Mumblin’ Word,” the record offers a puzzling blend of gospel-fused Americana, perky Jesus Movement nostalgia and freak folk experimentation.

Explicitly Christian in approach and content – Sufjan’s fans might recognize the name of the husband of the married couple duo, Presbyterian minister Vito Auito, from “Vito’s Ordination Song” – The Welcome Wagon remind me of the soul-lifting quality and sincerity of the old-fashioned hymn sings of my youth (with the addition of several instruments, of course). Listening to their sing-along version of Lenny Smith’s “But For You Who Fear My Name” it’s hard to not grate on my wife’s nerves by clapping and whistling along.

Given the hype surrounding The Welcome Wagon’s introduction to a much wider audience, there are bound to be plenty of detractors who won’t appreciate the explicitly church-y quality of it or find the quality of the instrumentation and vocal stylings up to snuff. But for those of us already sold on this not-so-little-anymore band, no amount of fanboy hype, however annoying it can be at times, could spoil what has been a long seven-year wait time coming.

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