Blind Willies is a San Francisco rock Americana band led by singer/songwriter Alexei Wajchman. The band began at San Francisco’s High School of the Arts as a duo playing covers of American folk songs and Alexei’s originals which he began writing when he was 15. After their professional debut at San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the band’s first two releases of all original songs, The Unkindness of Ravens(2007) and Everybody's Looking for a Meal(2008), were highly praised. The albums defined their sound and provided them the opportunity to perform extensively at eclectic venues, from New York's Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and San Francisco's Djangofest to Brooklyn's intimate back room at Barbès. They shared stages with punk icon Penelope Houston (Avengers), “Dawg Music” innovator David Grisman, and folk iconoclast Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders).
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—Alexei Wajchman(vocal, guitar, harmonica), Misha Khalikulov(cello), Daniel Riera(bass, flute), Max Miller-Loran(keys, trumpet), and Alex Nash(drums)—the band recorded the 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.
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. Alexei's songs have been played on more than 200 radio stations around the world, including the Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Australia, and Canada, and the band has toured throughout the West and East Coasts. A new album is scheduled for release later this year.
Members of Blind Willies also perform with Rupa and the April Fishes, George Watsky, Kev Choice Ensemble, Marcus Cohen and the Congress, and The Getback.
Blind Willies specializes in the kind of earthy, playful Americana that bands like Mumford and Sons aspire to.
Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle 5/6/12
Like The Band? Like Jack White? Then you’ll love Blind Willies, a majestic alt-countrified horn-driven take on the universe and everything in it.
BoyHowdy, Cover Lay Down.com 6/11
A heady mix of americana, blues, folk, and rock 'n' roll, their latest album Needle, Feather, and a Rope showcases frontman Alexei Wajchman's incredible range of emotional nuance.
Laurel Kathleen, Best New Bands
Blind Willies goes electric and adds some new members. Lead singer/songwriter Alexei Wajchman produces a haunting and gleefully sardonic album . . . Played live on KZSU in May 2011 and sounded fantastic!
Alan Joyce, KZSU Stanford University
Gogol Bordello immediately spring to mind . . . but where Gogol to me sound like Borat on crack, Blind Willies are more like Jagger fronting The Pogues.
Ben Hughes, Uber Rock, UK
Alexei Wajchman - Guitar, Harmonica
Alex Nash - Drums
Max Miller-Loran - Trumpet, keys
Daniel Riera - Bass, flute
Misha Khalikulov - Cello
Needle, Feather, and a Rope CD LP (2011)
Produced by Blind Willies and Lemon DeGeorge(Jolie Holland, Genghis Blues)
Recorded by Jay Pellicci(Deerhoof)
Mixed by Justin Phelps(Dresden Dolls, Chuck Prophet, Neville Brothers, Jolie Holland) and Gabriel Shepard(Frank Black,
Mastered by Paul Stubblebine(Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Ry Cooder, David Grisman
& Jerry Garcia, John Lee Hooker, Santana)
Everybody's Looking for a Meal CD LP (2008)
Recorded, mixed by Lemon DeGeorge
Mixed and mastered by Paul Carlsen.
Produced by Blind Willies.
The Unkindness of Ravens CD LP (2007)
Recorded and mixed by Lemon DeGeorge (Jolie Holland, Sundance Audience Award winning film Genghis Blues)
Mastered by Paul Carlsen (Nirvana's Nevermind, Neil Young).
Produced by Blind Willies.
Confirmed radio play includes Better Days Radio, Vancouver, BC; Pirate Cat Radio, SF; KPIG, KRSH, WXPN, WFUV Woody’s Children, KPFA, WFDU, KALW, KZSC, KUSP, KYOU, KQED, KDVS, KKUP, WOBC, WTJU, WTSR, WDVX Writer’s Block, WCOM Taproot Radio, Americana Roots, WWUH, KZSU, KRCB, KSCL, WBGU,
KAOS, WTUL, WCBN, KBCS, WEFT, WMBR, KCBX, KBGA, WSDP, WDCB, KXCI, WRKF, KACI, WLRN, KCSC, WFHB, WMUD, KAFM, Thayrone’s The Bone Conduction
Music Show(syndicated), WRFL, WDBX, KGLP, Radio Marabu/Europe/NoPigeonholes, Hanx/Netherlands, Crossroads/NL, Arjen Dekker’s Blue Wednesday/NL,
Dutch Roots Radio’s Landslide, Gerrit Casper’s Goodnoise/NL, Thomas Kaldijk’s Blueprint/NL, Rootsrevival, Michel Penard’s ISA Radio American Roots Music/France, Friedrich Hog’s Radio Free FM/Germany, Heart of the Night and TransAtlantic Acoustic indieheart.com podcasts, indieSF.com, Todd Mack’s Off the Beat-n-Track, Suffolk ‘n Cool/UK, CKUA Tom Coxworth’s Folk Routes/Canada, WYEP, WGDR, CJLX, CKHA, WHAY, WBSD, WKZE, WHDD, NHPR, KRCC, KLOI,CHES Erin Radio, CJTR,Progressive Roots/WSJF, WHJX, WFJO, KFOK, WMRD-AM, WLIS, WMPG, WXIN, KVMR, WMUC, WPSU, 2 MAX/Australia,
Triplej/Australia, 3 INR/Australia, 2AIR/Australia, 4RED/Australia, Radio Upper
Galilee/Israel, Highway 61 Radio Voce Spazio/Italy, Radio EVW/Germany, Radio
ZuSa/Germany, Radio Shalom/Canada.
Yerba Buena Gardens Must-See Acts
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Led by Alexei Wajchman, a natural frontman with the mane to match, [Blind Willies] specializes in th...Led by Alexei Wajchman, a natural frontman with the mane to match, [Blind Willies] specializes in the kind of earthy, playful Americana that bands like Mumford and Sons aspire to.
-Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle
Blind Willies on CollegeRoots
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Blind Willies remind us an awfully lot of Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, Kurt Vonnegut the writer. Maybe it's t...Blind Willies remind us an awfully lot of Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, Kurt Vonnegut the writer. Maybe it's the intellegence embedded into each of Alexei's lyrics, perhaps it's the eclectic personalities of the members of the band. Or maybe it's the sarcastic, humorous tone. We don't know...
The members of Blind Willies actually all grew up in San Francisco and attended the same high school, a public school dedicated to educating young artists, called San Francisco School of the Arts. After graduating, the members scattered across America - to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, the New School in New York, to UCLA and UC Santa Cruz in California. Alexei formed the first incarnation of Blind Willies with a fiddle player in high school, and they continued to work together while attending UC Santa Cruz and receiving degrees in Environmental Science. Then Alexei moved back to San Francisco. It was only when Max, and Daniel, and Misha (all friends from the same year in school), moved back to San Francisco and found themselves ready to start new projects that they reconnected serendipitously to Alexei and Alex through mutual friends. Thus, Blind Willieswas reborn as a 5-piece band.
"Our sound is a mixture of American styles: Classic rock, Appalachian folk, Jazz, Gospel, even Funk (they put all of these under the umbrella term "Americana"), plus the occasional flourishes of Eastern European folk, Gypsy, and Klezmer thrown in, alluding to the ethnic and cultural roots of a few of our members," they tell us. In the folk and rock worlds, their biggest influences span a century: from Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, to Bob Dylan, The Band, Mavis Staples, Bruce Springsteen, all the way to Nirvana and Wilco.
"Blind Willies has been together for about two years and we have evolved in many ways," says Misha, their Cellist. "This is because Alexei continues to churn out new songs, because our approach continues to adopt more and more influences, and because we feed off of each others' musical ideas. Our music is highly arranged at times, and very improvisatory at others. There is a lot of artistic freedom in our live performance that has become possible through developing the chemistry between band members. I always say that, no matter how good the musicians are in the band, it's the time spent together, learning how to tastefully coexist with each person's differing style, that really makes it into a band. What excites us and the audience the most is that no single show is ever the same because we take artistic risks at each show in an attempt to convey an honest, present-minded sentiment each time."
BW has a new EP that has been recently released, but it's only available for purchase at shows. "Our plans are to record a new album in the next year, and also tour as much as possible in the U.S. and Europe, as well," Misha continues.
"As far as collaborations go, our album 'Needle, Feather, and a Rope' has several guest appearances from great musicians. Also, we frequently invite guest musicians to join us at shows. Rachel Woods-Robinson, a UCLA student and fellow San Francisco School of the Arts graduate, has recorded with us and joined us for many performances. We have a monthly residency acoustic show at the Bazaar Cafe in San Francisco where we invite a different guest each time to be showcased. We've had some really talented folks join us the last 3 months, each one bringing their own style to the band and contributing brilliantly to the songs. We are excited to have some really amazing guests, some international, already confirmed to join us in the coming months."
Blind Willies at Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco
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Incorporating classic songwriting elements of The Band along with the earnest grace and humility of ...Incorporating classic songwriting elements of The Band along with the earnest grace and humility of Springsteen, Blind Willies tread a careful line. Perhaps heroes such as Paul Simon and Dylan knew how to balance understatement with wit as well as any in their storytelling, but this young Bay Area band aims for similarly simple yet powerful songs.
As Blind Willies played to a largely empty Cafe du Nord in San Francisco, they were not bothered and still sought to cultivate a texture that wrapped around those in attendance. The concertgoer who found himself there might've wondered how such talented musicians were playing to so few people. The heat from the chemistry on stage was palpable and genuine. The mood, dictated by guitarist Alexei Wajchman, was inspired by guitar journeymen of years past and Mr. Wajchman sang with conviction. Although the ensemble integrates elements of decided weirdness, Frank Zappa's influence in particular, Blind Willes lyrics aim for more of a social conscience.
Instead of mere kitsch, cellist Misha Khalikulov complements the guitar texture and fills out the groove established by Daniel Riera (bass) and Alex Nash (drums) with warmth and direction. A dynamic bond rather than rigid cement, the pocket guided the music through the terrain of an unlikely grouping of instruments similar to Yo Yo Ma's Goat Rodeo project last year. The band played with a mastery of their instruments within the traditional role before they pushed into newer progressive realms, without ever sounding contrived. The acoustic roots are prevalent in this band, and although the organic warmth does deteriorate into a musty pallor at some points, the strength of the songwriting drives the music forward.
Gypsy elements revealed themselves as the set progressed but they never strayed from the Americana. The synthesis lent a danceable groove beneath the beguiling lyrics. Blind Willies were very comfortable, natural, and honest with their story telling. Bob Dylan might be happy that bands still want to experiment with this almost Appalachian sensibility. Although they may not have been singing about good ol' boys and moonshine distilleries, the context seemed to suggest otherwise. And when one expects a subject matter concerned with non-relevant folklore, social awareness is a good surprise, and reveals that Blind Willies know how to tap into their audience.
"I'd rather be a beggar than a cowboy king," Mr. Wajchman sang with conviction. Even without a herd there, Blind Willies knew how to make their music gregarious and fun. What's next for these boys is hard to say, but their tunes are diverse enough to appeal to a much larger audience, so I expect that 2012 will be an excellent year to catch them live.
10/21/2011 SF Chronicle, Blind Willies: Gospel revived by pimps, poets
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Blind Willies take their name from their influences: Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake and Blind Lem...Blind Willies take their name from their influences: Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson are a few of the musicians to whom they pay homage. The band started as a folk duo in 2007 and has since developed into a full-fledged band. Original member Alexei Wajchman says he's intent on writing songs that are immediate and powerful.
Read more: Click the link to read the interview.
8/2011 Needle, Feather, and a Rope
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There's enough gypsy flair to give these songs that slimy carny feel, though as the album descends i...There's enough gypsy flair to give these songs that slimy carny feel, though as the album descends into madness the gospel elements begin to take over.
And so what begins as a trip into blindness becomes a tale of redemption. Of sorts. The resolution isn't half-hearted, but it's more resignation than acclamation. Life will wear on you.
All that may sound drearily deep, but the music is so searing and enthralling that the themes of good, evil, life and death are hardly overwhelming. Rather, such grandiose routes of thought seem like the perfect accompaniment.
An utterly ambitious album, and one that follows through with a massive emotional impact. This'll put you through the wringer, but in the best of ways.
Song of the Day: Soon My Work Will Be Over
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San Francisco band Blind Willies evades easy musical description, which is awesome. They started as ...San Francisco band Blind Willies evades easy musical description, which is awesome. They started as a folk duo, but with their third album, Needle, Feather and a Rope, they are rocking 5 members, including a cello player. This song, a tribute to Vic Chesnutt, is Americana with soul, but even that description seems to miss a quality.
7/26 Needle, Feather, and a Rope: Great and recommended!
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Americana mit Gypsy-Klängen, Folk und Rock versetzt mit heftigen Bläsersätzen macht d...Americana mit Gypsy-Klängen, Folk und Rock versetzt mit heftigen Bläsersätzen macht den Sound des dritten Albums der Blind Willies aus Kalifornien aus. "Needle Feather And A Rope" vereint Geschichten aus den dunklen Ecken von San Francisco zwischen Nutten und Zuhältern, Irren und Musikern.
Angefangen hatten die Blind Willies eigentlich als ein Duo. Der Gitarrist und Sonschreiber Alexei Wajchman hatte sich mit einer Geigerin zusammengetan, um Klassiker des amerikanischen Folk ebenso wie seine eigenen Songideen zu präsentieren. Doch was im Frühjahr 2011 als drittes Album auf die Menschheit losgelassen wurde, markiert einen riesigen Schritt in eine neue Richtung. Denn aus dem Folk-Duo ist mittlerweile eine Band mit Schlagzeug, Bass, Cello , Keyboards und Bläsern geworden. Und die Musik? Die überrascht wohl noch mehr. Denn die Blind Willies ordnen sich in eine Reihe mit Bands wie dem Trio von Pokey LaFargue, C.W. Stoneking oder den Schweden von King Oliver's Revolver ein. Nicht vom musikalischen Stil her. Nein: die Blind Willies sind durchaus eine Rockband und kein Jazzensemble. Doch vom Geist her, mit dem hier Songs geschrieben und präsentiert werden. Ohne Rücksicht auf gängige Soundklischees werden hier alte Stilrichtungen okkupiert und mit neuen Songs reanimiert.
Die Geschichten über Irre und Normale, über Nutten und ihre Ablehnung der Freiheit, über biblische Figuren und die heutigen Straßen von San Francisco klingen so wie aus der bösen alten Zeit und treffen mit einer Wucht, wie es die bösen Balladen des jungen Bob Dylan in der Folkszene Anfang der 60er schafften. Die Kommentare über die Gesellschaft haben eine Schärfe wie Randy Newman in seinen besten Zeiten während die Musikbegleitung uns einerseits natürlich in die amerikanischen Weiten des Westens aber mit dem nächsten Trompetenton gleich wieder nach New Orleans entführen. Großartig und empfehlenswert!
7/11 Needle, Feather, and a Rope: Beautiful songs
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Sterk werk van folk, blues en klezmer Twee sterke albums heeft Blind Willies uit San Francisco al...Sterk werk van folk, blues en klezmer
Twee sterke albums heeft Blind Willies uit San Francisco al op haar naam staan. Zowel The Unkindness Of Ravens (2007) als Everybody's Looking For A Meal (2008) bevatten ingetogen doch gloedvol gespeelde folk, blues en klezmer. Nu violiste Annie Staninec de band heeft verlaten laat gitarist en componist Alexei Wajchman de teugels varen. Blind Willies transformeerde tot vijftal waardoor de eerder genoemde muzikale bestanddelen op het door Lemon DeGeorge (Jolie Holland) geproduceerde Needle, Feather, and a Rope welhaast 'rocken'. Evenals op de vorige albums (luister naar If You Was A Good Pimp van het tweede!) treffen we ook hier een wereld van hoeren en tollenaars aan. Van een onwrikbare god die altijd zijn zin krijgt. Van zonde en verlangen. This must be the neighborhood/Where Moses on a rock he stood zingt Wajchman in Last Drop Of Midnight. Deze oudtestamentische wereld kent vanzelfsprekend een Jezebel. En ook hier wordt ze, anders dan in de traditionele interpretatie, net als bij Iron and Wine en de feministische theologie gedachtig, opgevoerd als een sterkte, onafhankelijke vrouw. Gelukkig weten Wajchman en zijn uitstekend spelende band de gevaren van een gothic-interpretatie – roept iemand daar Wovenhand? – van dit erfgoed te vermijden. De invloed van de in het begeleidend schrijven geciteerde schrijver Kurt Vonnegut? Needle, Feather, and a Rope is een verzameling prachtige liedjes die scherpzinnige observatie aan lichtvoetige ironie paren.
Wim Boluijt sent a copy of the magazine along with a letter and translation of the last sentence: "Needle, Feather, and a Rope is a collection of beautiful songs connecting wise observation with lighthearted irony."
7/9/2011 In Tune: Needle, Feather, and a Rope
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I knew nothing about Northern California indie folk collective Blind Willies when “Needle, Feather, ...I knew nothing about Northern California indie folk collective Blind Willies when “Needle, Feather, and a Rope” came across my desk several weeks ago. After about a dozen spins of these phenomenal 14 songs, the Alexei Wajchman-fronted outfit has moved to the
top of my list of pleasant surprises. Blind Willies lure you right in with the vaudeville-like strains of opener “One Dime Down,” and continue to mesmerize with keepers “Lord Thought He’d Make a Man,” “Good and Faithful Servant,” “Jezebel,” “I Made a Mistake,” “Last Drop of Midnight,” “Notes for a Cowardly Lion,” personal favorite “Sisters of Perpetual Curiosity” and “Don’t Let the Devil Steal Your Joy.” If you’re looking to spend an hour of unadulterated musical bliss, “Needle, Feather, and a Rope” will do the trick. Jeffrey Sisk, In Tune, The Daily News, McKeesport, PA
6/20/11 Happy Hour at Amnesia: Blind Willies & Danny Cohen
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In a state of sheer panic, I found out that the Danny Cohen and Blind Willies show started at 7 p.m....In a state of sheer panic, I found out that the Danny Cohen and Blind Willies show started at 7 p.m. It was 6:30 and I was in desperate need of a shower and still had bed head from my disco nap. Buckling up my
pants I ran unshowered down Geary Street to get my girlfriend and grab a cab to get to the Mission District. I thought the show started at 9-ish. Doesn't everything start after 10 p.m. in San Francisco? Not this show.
Which was fantastic . . . Blind Willies are excellent. Their latest CD, Needle, Feather and a Rope, is on heavy rotation in my apartment.
6/7/11 Needle, Feather, and a Rope
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Blind Willies are the brain child of Alexei Wajchman, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco, previo...Blind Willies are the brain child of Alexei Wajchman, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco, previously releasing two albums under the name Blind Willies and touring as an acoustic duo, for this third album he put together a band of accomplished multi instrumentalists and the result is 'Needle, Feather, And A Rope'.
With a wide range of influences including Dylan, The Pogues, Zappa, Leonard Cohen and many soul and blues legends, Blind Willies offer up a promising mix of folk, blues, Americana and rock 'n' roll, all recorded in retro analogue folks, just like they did in the old days. The songs and lyrics especially are influenced by Wajchman's upbringing, stories of life on the streets of San Francisco, pimps and whores, gamblers and dealers, the general day to day life outside his window.
Opener 'One Dime Down' sets the scene with a maudlin cello, before bursting in with a collection of rustic sounding instrumentation, accordian and brass instruments giving a folky, almost carnival feel. Gogol Bordello immediately spring to mind, a sweet, upbeat Gypsy folk song, but where Gogol to me sound like Borat on crack, Blind Willies are more like Jagger fronting The Pogues. 'Lord Thought He'd Make a Man' continues the theme with swathes of Hammond, close your eyes and you can almost smell the whiskey and smoke from some small ancient bar that this band must surely haunt on a nightly basis.
'Jezebel' is like an old traditional folk tune, a tale of some poor lady of the night who gave her pleasure to the Lord, and nods its hat to The Pogues. The heartfelt 'Notes For A Cowardly Lion' has Wajchman solo with just a piano for company; simple, with some rousing harmonica, is nice. Stones influences come through in 'Last Drop Of Midnight' and 'Sisters Of Perpetual Curiosity', in fact it's probably the influence of the artists who pre-date the Stones to be honest. The vocals overall sit somewhere between Jagger and Mike Scott from The Waterboys, a nice combination.
A good mix of upbeat Gypsy folk and laid back, vagabond balladeering make for an interesting sound indeed and one to be embraced. The songs are well written, and tales of prostitutes and strippers, circus performers and thieves guarantee a worthwhile listen and a good read of the lyric booklet.
Blind Willies are the sort of band that turn up every so often on Later...With Jools Holland - World Music? Folk? Blues?...yep all of the above. Whether you like these types of music or not, if you have a liking of well written songs about life then you cannot go far wrong with 'Needle, Feather, And A Rope'
If Gogol Bordello are the life and soul of the party, then Blind Willies are the hangover cure.
6/2/11 Needle, Feather, and a Rope
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Like The Band? Like Jack White? Then you’ll love Needle, Feather and a Rope, a majestic alt-countrif...Like The Band? Like Jack White? Then you’ll love Needle, Feather and a Rope, a majestic alt-countrified horn-driven take on the universe and everything in it . . . the new album is a shot in the arm, with the primordial sounds of Leadbelly and Lomax filtered through New Orleans blues, Randy Newman pop, Rolling Stones rock and roll, grandiose indiefolk, and just about every other genre that has followed.
5/31/11 Lord Thought He'd Make a Man
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Any band that combines a Hammond organ and a cello has my attention, to begin with. Likewise a band ...Any band that combines a Hammond organ and a cello has my attention, to begin with. Likewise a band that features a lyric about being tried “by a jury of your fears” in the song’s first 25 seconds.
“Lord Thought He’d Make a Man” is an old-timey song with sprinkles of Randy Newman, Kurt Weill, Tom Waits, and Jim Morrison concocted into slinky, rugged shuffle. Front man Alexei Wajchman has a sly sense of humor and a slightly unhinged singing and guitar-playing style that fully commands the aural stage (and I have no doubt of his command of the physical stage as well).
6/3/11 Q&A with Alexei
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San Francisco's Blind Willies is the kind of band whose music sharply divides listeners' opinions al...San Francisco's Blind Willies is the kind of band whose music sharply divides listeners' opinions almost instantly. While some might take that as a knock, I consider it a testament to the intensity and tenacity with which they explore their own boundaries. A heady mix of americana, blues, folk, and rock 'n' roll, their latest album Needle, Feather, and a Rope showcases frontman Alexei Wajchman's (pictured above far right) incredible range of emotional nuance.
(follow the URL for an interview)
KQED cd review Everybody's Looking for a Meal 7/4/08
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Imagine the White Stripes driven by the fevered folk of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and you might g...Imagine the White Stripes driven by the fevered folk of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and you might get some idea of where the Blind Willies are coming from. Duo Annie Staninec and Alexei Wajchman have brought a punky attitude to bear on songs whose templates have long histories.
Alexei's voice drawls and snarls over agitated guitar, while Annie's fiddle playing gives the music it's whirling, devilish heart. Like Meg and Jack before them, they combine to create a sound bigger than the mere sum of their parts. High points include the rich, sneering sarcasm of "Mom Says No," the bluesy, Jagger-esque swagger of "Shark Out of Water," and the dark gypsy sorcery of "Sinners Medley."
The line between the past and present is muddied in the melée: You can as easily imagine "If You Was a Good Pimp" being penned in a dingy prohibition-era juke joint as by Snoop Dogg. It's this sound, of traditional music being seized by musicians with new, fiercely held ideas of their own, that makes this album so invigorating.
-Keith Laidlaw, KQED
5/30/08 If You Was a Good Pimp
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So many good albums, so little time! I really enjoyed Blind Willies' debut album, The Unkindness ...
So many good albums, so little time! I really enjoyed Blind Willies' debut
album, The Unkindness of Ravens - so much so that it made the
number 7 slot on my Top 10 of 2007 list. I was thrilled when the new
Blind Willies disc, Everybody's Looking for a Meal, arrived recently.
Though it's a great album, I just haven't found the time to do a full
review that can do justice to the music here, so I thought I'd focus on
one track - "If You Was a Good Pimp".
Other than having a great title, "If You Was a Good Pimp" shows off
everything great about this duo. Annie Staninec (fiddle) and Alexei
Wajchman (guitar, vocals) play off each other expertly here. Both the
guitar and fiddle rock and roll off each other like nobody's business,
and Staninec's chorus vocals give a gospel feel to Wajchman's more
Since I heard the first Blind Willies disc I've felt that Wajchman has a
knack for writing lyrics, and this song is no exception. Consider "If you
was a good pimp, Jesus would be smiling. I'm no two-bit mama, I'm no
trash bag sister. You better play it right, I ain't gonna hook for you no
more." I love it! Just like "Last Rites in December" from the debut
moved me emotionally, this tune makes me shuffle and shimmy.
"If You Was a Good Pimp" is a fine example of what Blind Willies is all
about. I hope Annie and Alexei continue to follow this path, and
continue to make great music. If I had a proper place to host, I'd be all
over inviting these two by for a backyard party into the wee hours.
Grilling, drinks, good friends, and Blind Willies sounds like a perfect
summer Saturday night to me!
-Jenn O'Donnell, Editor, Delusions of Adequacy
8/08 Meal Ticket by Paul Landers CD Baby
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Meal Ticket author: Paul Landers A radical album. That’s all you need to know. Like The Unkindne...Meal Ticket
author: Paul Landers
A radical album. That’s all you need to know. Like The Unkindness of Ravens, their first CD, this one is a collection of stories that construct a powerful telling of what it’s like to be alive, to be hungry, to feel the pain of desire and denial, to struggle through a day and to come out in one piece on the other side of one’s dreams. Whether Alexei Wajchman’s narrator is a child expressing want, a prostitute demanding simple respect, a homeless drifter dreaming of a lost life, or a lover betrayed, the intelligence of his lyrics gives a heightened poetic realism to the unsentimental testaments these characters deliver. Now add a musical universe of genres that suck up every American influence stirring the melting pot culture at large, played by two early twentysomething musicians who seem to have rocked together since birth, and you have some notion of what’s going on here. Annie Staninec’s fiddle is a Tower of Babel unto itself. If there was music outside while the masons and carpenters and water carriers were working their way up that spiral Jacob’s Ladder, it sounded exactly like her fiddle does in Sinners Medley. Her vocabulary is endless, electric, melodious, and certifiably mad. She’s as comfortable in funk, gospel, blues, jazz, country, old-time religion, cabaret, and rock, as she is in a Yiddish vernacular that breaks your heart while you’re catching your breath. Wajchman is also a powerful guitar player. He plays what looks like a dreadnaught tank. His rhythm has a pulsing kick that drives his fiddle player into what sounds like mystery revealed. Their work on If You Was a Good Pimp is drop dead on. A quick rundown of the other songs. Mom Says No is so good they had to do it twice, at the beginning in Alexei’s sneering complaint, and at the end sung by Annie in a tone that’s innocent but strangely ominous. Trampin’ is gospel turned on its head. They’ll crucify a stranger though he’s done his time. Heaven isn’t all the false prophets promise. The title track, Everybody’s Looking for a Meal, is a beautiful, rocking anthem of daily human conduct. Imagine it played by a marching band at our next president’s Inaugural. Don’t Trade In Paradise is a reflection of what we lose when we leave. The places we run away from are never far behind, never far from haunting. The music is a perfect sphere of melody and intention. Sinners Medley begins with a Yiddish traditional about a Rabbi who dances to keep the Devil down. The fiddler takes us back to a Polish shtetl where reverence and joy are tempered by respect for the unseen but unmistakable dark forces. Alexei berates the congregation in a Yiddish growl that spirals wildly with the fiddle into his original song, Shadows Everywhere, a soliloquy sung by a fallen man who sees corruption wherever he turns. Then there are the next 5 songs which play like a bildungsroman of love, betrayal, loss, denial, recognition, resolution, survival, and unmitigated scorn. It’s an epic cycle, not a loose word in it, and it takes the album in a different musical direction but still very much about hunger and its consequences. Carnival is a masterpiece of sound and lyric. These songs are blue ballads of a heart laid bare, exposed to the elements, subject to worms, but stronger for having been eaten alive. Shark Out of Water is a party song. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t understand the poisonous smile Wajchman nails mercilessly to the cross. I’m in awe of the beauty and bedrock sensibility of this record.
Everybody's Looking for a Meal 7/31/08
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Everybody's Looking for a Meal review by Michael Mee Initially at least, it's impossible to es...Everybody's Looking for a Meal
review by Michael Mee
Initially at least, it's impossible to escape the heavy atmosphere that hangs over the latest release from San Francisco duo Annie Staninec and Alexei Wajchman and, by the time you reach the self-imploding Sinners Melody, the emotional drain is almost complete.
But to their credit both Staninec and Wajchman are the antithesis of 'popcorn' pop musicians. For them the music is a voyage of discovery and the pair make powerful statement after powerful statement.
And while the Blind Willies almost apocalyptic mutation of bluegrass/country, detonated by two unique talents will never be 'mood music', the insight of Ticket into Heaven is hypnotic.
All too often, musicians take the path of least resistance in an attempt to be universally 'popular' so it is refreshing to come across an album that has something to say that is worth saying.
The greatest gift of Everybody's Looking For A Meal is that each time you return - and believe me you will - you'll discover a completely different album in front of you.
But be warned in place of sugar coated, banal nonsense you'll find an album that demands as much of the listener as it did of its creators.
4/12/07 The Unkindness of Ravens album review
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The Blind Willies debut, The Unkindness of Ravens, has been knocking around my CD player for quite a...The Blind Willies debut, The Unkindness of Ravens, has been knocking around my CD player for quite a few months now, quietly haunting random moments of my life during this tail end of winter and early spring. As the days grow longer and the East Coast slowly emerges from icy temperatures, I've come to love this disc rather a lot - so much so, that I find words are failing me. How can one truly relay the maddening beauty of the first crocus poking through the dry, cracked Earth to someone who has never seen it happen? How can I possibly explain something like the Blind Willies song, "Last Rites in December", in such a way that you'll understand how breathtaking it is?
The Willies are Annie Staninec (fiddle) and Alexei Wajchman (guitar, vocals), a duo that met while at San Francisco School of the Arts. Staninec and Wajchman, both accomplished musicians, made their professional debut as the Blind Willies in 2004 at a bluegrass festival. Since then, they've played a variety of venues and recorded their first release - a collection of ten acoustic tunes featuring the fiddle, guitar, and a bit of harmonica.
There’s nothing overtly unexpected on The Unkindness of Ravens, but the Blind Willies play incredibly wonderful music. Alexei is a remarkable songwriter whose lyrics go well beyond the average ramblings of most singer-songwriters. Even “Mainline” - with its “hungry pawn store prisoners” - is well-crafted enough to run with the big boys and Wajchman wrote the song at the tender age of 15. Annie’s fiddle is the perfect accompaniment for Alexei and it’s the soft wails from her instrument that really give this album an overall feel of quiet desperation - like waking up in a cold sweat with traces of a nightmare clouding your mind.
Tracks like the seven minute long “Something in the Night” are further proof of Alexei’s knack as a wordsmith; here, he sings “there’s something in the night/even when you’re blind/taking drugs to cancel time/that keeps your eyes wide open and your heart clenched tight” and the scene almost materializes right in front of you. Still, it’s the opening track, “Last Rites in December” that gives me butterflies every time I hear it. This song just has that certain something that makes it stunning and I find myself returning to it over and over again. “Last Rites in December” is the Blind Willies’ perfect blend of instruments and voice(s). As Wajchman and Staninec sing “there’s no warmth in this city/there’s no joy in this lover of mine/so I’m leaving with nothing/I think I’ll make it this time” you can feel not only the heartbreak, but the delicate new leaf of hope.
Although I’m sure my words are woefully inadequate, I cannot urge fans of all sorts of folk music enough that they should not miss out on The Unkindness of Ravens. The opening track alone is sufficient to pay for this debut CD, but there’s nine other gems just waiting to be discovered.
Jenn O'Donnell, Editor
3/26/07 The Unkindness of Ravens CD review
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" . . . these ten tales explore the darker side of life with word play that is evocative of a quiet..." . . . these ten tales explore the darker side of life
with word play that is evocative of a quiet
desperation, a cool loathing of unavoidable
situations or perhaps a pitiful yearning for
redemption. Take this as an example: "There's
something in the night/even when you're
blind/taking drugs to cancel time/that keeps your
eyes wide open/and your heart clenched tight."
(There's Something in the Night), or the near
genius of: "Marie was born in Santa Fe/with
saxophone and pretty lace/she'd play for food or
spread her thighs/depending on the moon/and
on its hollow bones of solitude." (Marie). There's
plenty more where these gems came from and
with scarcely a track less than five, six or seven
minutes long there's plenty of scope for
developing the themes."
We play one or two 45-60 minute sets of original songs:
One Dime Down (3:44)
Lord Thought He'd Make a Man (3:11)
Good and Faithful Servant (5:20)
Needle, Feather, and a Rope (5:37)
Reprobate Mind (3:53)
I Made a Mistake (3:24)
Last Drop of Midnight (5:09)
Absolutely Isabel (3:33)
Notes for a Cowardly Lion (4:38)
Sisters of Perpetual Curiosity (3:57)
Don't Let the Devil Steal Your Joy (3:17)
New Mule To Ride (3:34)
Soon My Work Will Be Over (4:38)
Don't Trade In Paradise (4:07)
Shark Out of Water (4:04)
Wet Dream (3:03)
Everybody's Looking for a Meal (4:58)
If You Was A Good Pimp (3:27)
Sinners Medley (7:19)
Feel Like Going Home (5:23)
No Peace for the Hunted (6:39)