WANDERING SONS – Darken Your Door
Things are going quite well for the Wandering Sons. Even as they work on their upcoming full-length Little Bird, the first pressing of last year’s Darken Your Door EP sold out, so they recently re-pressed it. While recording in Rockford, an impressive roster of guests has joined them in the studio, including Augie Meyers (the keyboardist on Bob Dylan’s last two records) and drummer Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick. Fellow Trickster Rick Nielsen sported a Wandering Sons T-shirt on their recent Late Night With Conan O’Brien appearance. As if all that weren’t enough, the first track from the EP, “If You Come Home,” has been featured in a Jimmy John’s television commercial, giving them nationwide exposure, and, even cooler, free sandwiches for life. I’m sure if I ever watched any TV at all, they’d have convinced me to go buy a sub.
That’s because from the first listen Darken Your Door proves that the Wandering Sons have certainly earned the attention. Lead singer/songwriter Cory Chisel has the kind of voice that, without him ever raising it, makes you take notice (think Tom Waits had he never started gargling gravel). Instead, it’s just as smooth and lovely as the clarinet that’s featured throughout. The jazzy feel, which comes courtesy of piano, upright bass, and brushed drums in addition to the clarinet, demonstrates Chisel owes as much to Louis Armstrong as he does to Dylan or Waits. And it can only help their chance of success that he has the good looks (and penchant for spiffy hats) of Jakob Dylan (though every picture and video on their website downplays that fact).
The six songs on the record clock in at the fairly respectable length of twenty minutes, almost as long as a Weezer full-length and almost long enough to save it from the EP purgatory of my CD rack. But it’s the strength of the songs that truly rescues it. “Honest Man Blues” shuffles along, with Chisel tossing off hallelujahs as he tries to convince us of his truthful merits. The lovely ballad “Angelina” disguises a murderer’s lament as a love song (“Angelina, was it worth to know the truth / Angelina, that I killed to be with you?”). “I Wish I Had Known” is a woozy, bluesy toe-tapper, while the title track and the sandwich song are the jazziest of the bunch. There’s nothing here that sounds the least bit like Cheap Trick, but I know why they like it.