Album Reviews

Music You Don't Know You Like Yet


Needle, Feather, and a Rope


Nick's Picks: 01 One Dime Down; 04 Needle, Feather, and a Rope; 08 Last Drop of Midnight; 12 Dear J.

FCC ALERT: 06 Reprobate Mind

Review by Steven "Nick" Nickelson of Blind Willies Needle, Feather, and a Rope :

After listening to this release from Alexei Wajchman and company (an extremely talented collection, IMHO), I think we have a winner in the alt-countrified gypsy-rock genre, folks. Right out of the gate we get Misha Khalikulov lulling us with a maudlin cello, before bursting in with accordion and horns; thus, giving a us a brassy, oompah carnivalesque concert (“One Dime Down”). From there, we are treated to an old-timey song reminiscent of a mashup of Randy Newman, Frank Zappa, and a young Tom Waits (“Lord Thought He'd Make A Man”). Singer-songwriter Wajchman (again, IMHO) is in a very select group of creative geniuses peopled by the likes of Zappa, Roger Waters/David Gilmour, Bob Marley, Lennon/McCartney, Dylan, L. Cohen, and a few others. His lyrics and music appear to magically conjure a sense of aurally “watching” a three ring circus at times, and a stage production at other times – all within the confines of the space between the ears, and sometimes even on the same track! One of the best cuts (“Needle, Feather, and Rope”) on this refreshingly well-arranged cd actually seems to draw (for me, at least) a favorable comparison to a couple of very popular bands of the late 60's – Chicago Transit Authority's eponymous first album, and Blood, Sweat, & Tears eponymous second album. Another equally reminiscent of BS&T is “Soon My Work Will Be Over”. “Jezebel” recalls a traditional celtic folk tune, a tale of some poor lady of the night who saved her pleasures for the Lord, drawing an influence from the likes of the Young Dubliners and/or The Pogues. To say that this collection of artists is talented is an understatement – each one contributes just the right amount required to make the song perfect. I note some indirect influence from Dylan by way of The Band (“I Made A Mistake”, “Absolutely Isabel”, “Sisters of Perpetual Curiosity”). Although every song on this release is remarkable, they each demonstrate the versatility of this talented group. Whether emulating Bruce Hornsby (“Notes For A Cowardly Lion”, “Don't Let The Devil Steal Your Joy”) or Zappa (“New Mule to Ride”), this cd is chock-full of deep and rich sounds. I recommend you run, don't walk to your nearest retail music store (or go online) and purchase this before it becomes a classic. And that's my two nickels' worth...........................Nick


Blind Willies actually had started as a duo. Blind Willies is Alexei Wajchman, guitarist/singer/songwriter; Adam Coopersmith, drums; Misha Khalikulov, cello; Max Miller-Loran, keyboard/trumpet; Daniel Riera, bass. Max Miller-Loran is a trumpeter, keyboardist, producer, and graduate of Berklee College of Music. He's performed extensively around Boston and the Bay Area with The Kev Choice Ensemble, The Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, The Dave Scott Nonet, The Getback, The Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra and many others. Misha Khalikulov graduated from UCLA with a concentration in Classical Cello. He's toured the world this year with Rupa and the April Fishes. Daniel Riera is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, beatmaker, award-winning (ASCAP) composer, and arranger. He graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in Music Synthesis. Adam Coopersmith is a composer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/beatmaker/teacher. He's co-founder of the Brooklyn-based afrobeat band, Zongo Junction. Alexei grew up in San Francisco's Mission District. After learning to play clarinet and sax, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 15. His early influences included Nirvana, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Velvet Underground, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors. His music is a soulful mix of folk, rock, jazz, and blues. Writing in the popular online zine Delusions of Adequacy, editor Jenn O'Donnell wrote "Blind Willies play incredibly wonderful music. Alexei is a remarkable songwriter." Following their sophomore release, and in search of a larger canvas, Alexei assembled a full band of experienced, young musicians, accomplished across diverse genres including rock, jazz, classical, world, and hip-hop. Now five musicians strong, the band recorded a new album, Needle, Feather, and a Rope, at Tiny Telephone, indie engineer/producer/performer John Vanderslice's all-analog studio in San Francisco's Mission District. Judging by the rich landscapes Alexei’s songs travel, the band has used the various gifts of its new members to forge a dynamic and unique sound that reflects the deeply resonant American musical traditions they each brought to the table. The music is sincere, raw, and poignant, and the band’s integrity is reflected in the 14 tracks of Needle, Feather, and a Rope as well as in the recording process. “We wanted to record in the manner of our favorite classic albums,” Alexei explains, “the band all together in the studio, live to 2” analog tape, with minimal overdubs. We felt this approach not only gives the album superior sonics, but is a more honest representation of our musicianship and soul. We punched it out in 4 days, 10 hours each day, and I think you can hear the pleasure of the experience and the fun we had.” Alexei recorded the first two Blind Willies CDs, The Unkindness of Ravens(2007) and Everybody's Looking for a Meal(2008), with fiddler Annie Staninec.

The Band:

・ Alexei Wajchman: vocal, guitar, harmonica

・ Adam Coopersmith: drums

・ Daniel Riera: bass

・ Max Miller-Loran: keys, trumpet

・ Misha Khalikulov: cello

The Session Musicians: ・ Randy Clark: lead guitar (3)

・ Isabel Douglass: accordion (1)

・ Adam Nash: guitar slide at end (13)

・ Ken Rosen: tenor sax (4)

・ Andrew Walker: bass trombone (1)

・ Rachel Woods-Robinson: trombone (4, 9, 14)

・ Capp Street Revisionist Choir: Rachel, Rebecca Pingree, Nicolette Yarbrough

The Songs:

1.One Dime Down 03:43

2.Lord Thought He'd Make a Man 03:11

3.Good and Faithful Servant 05:19

4.Needle, Feather, and a Rope 05:35

5.Jezebel 04:52

6.Reprobate Mind 03:53

7.I Made a Mistake 03:23

8.Last Drop of Midnight 05:09

9.Absolutely Isabel 03:32

10.Notes for a Cowardly Lion 04:38

11.Sisters of Perpetual Curiosity 03:56

12.Don't Let the Devil Steal Your Joy 03:17

13.New Mule to Ride 03:34

14.Soon My Work Will Be Over 04:38

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Compiled by the WYCE Journalism Club

The opinions expressed in these reviews are those of the individual volunteers that submitted the article and do not necessarily reflect the views of WYCE or GRCMC; nor its staff, donors, or affiliates.