Wingdale Community Singers – Spirit Duplicator

January 01, 1970

(Scarlet Shame)


Wingdale Community Singers, an old time music collective
made up of four decidedly post-modern artists, has always been a study in
contradictions.  Pristine clarity, city
slicker ironies.  Delicate melodies, lush
counterpart and harmonies.  Buttoned down
tradition, wicked humor.  There’s a
constant tug of war between the lulling simplicity of the songs and the
sharpness of the words. 


Perhaps this is because Wingdale draws together such
divergent talents:  novelist Rick Moody,
folk singer Hannah Marcus, academic and musical experimenter David Grubbs and,
lately, visual artist and songwriter Nina Katchadorian.  The concept always sounded like a sitcom
pitch (“so this famous author decides to start a bluegrass band…”), still the
band has developed into a sure and accomplished musical enterprise.  None of the songs on Spirit Duplicator sound like they’re trying too hard, or arguing
their point, or playing the devil’s advocate. 
Instead, these compositions exist peacefully in a quiet, well-tended
space, growing in eccentric and twisted ways out of the most traditional
American music.  They may or may not be
making faces at us when we turn our backs. 


Consider “Rancho De La Meurta,” a slow-rolling, western
waltz co-written by Moody and Marcus.  By
the sound of it, this could be any cowpoke romantic opus, but listen harder and
you realize that this is not exactly a paeon to rugged individualism.  The main character is a guy who regularly
gets his sister pregnant and buries the babies, who takes pot shots at
wandering biologists looking for endangered species.  The tone is light and breezy, mildly amused
and non-judgmental, an implied what-are-you-smirking-about in its level
delivery.  The humor turns broader in
“Awol.” There the main chorus runs, “I’m going awol from the army of the lord,”
and Marcus takes on papal infallibility the aside “If the pope is never wrong
then we’re all gonna burn/even junior will have to take a turn.”  And in “My Les Paul,” Moody obsesses over a
music store purchase even though “apparently the headstock is crazed/which
means there are some cracks in the glaze/that come from extreme temperature


The trick to this kind of humor is delivering it with a
straight face, but if you’re too good at that, people will always wonder when
you’re joking.  The answer, with Wingdale
Community Singers is, I think, not always. 
“Naked Goth Girls” has its funny bits, but is essentially a portrait of
class divided loneliness, as a migrant worker eyes an erotic dancer from his
car, she just off work, he waiting to get picked for a job.  And “I’m In the Mood (To Drive)”, with its
sober verses and crashing electric guitar chords, evokes the alienation and
restlessness at the heart of America’s
obsession with the highway. 


Though lyrically daring, the album is musically quite
conservative, its accompaniments in guitar, piano, accordion, strings and brass
warm but well-behaved.  Everything – from
Tex Mex waltzes, to Sacred Harp polyphonies, to amateur theatrical balladries –
is delivered without irony and, evidently, with deep love.  A Carter family song, “Death Is Only a
Dream,” closes the album simply and beautifully.  It reminds you that, throughout Spirit Duplicator, every note has
sounded as pure and simple as true as the rawest country blues.  The words, though, are another story, never
simple, not especially pure but almost always interesting. 


Standout Tracks: “Naked Goth Girls,” “I’m in the Mood (to Drive)” “My Les Paul”  JENNIFER


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