2022 finds husband and wife duo The Welcome Wagon returning for their second album released by Sufjan Stevens label Asthmatic Kitty Records, with ten folk songs, titled Esther. Incorporating homemade cassette recordings of Monique's grandmother (Esther) reading Scripture, the album has a very understated approach that allows each of the sparse instruments the space to be heard for their contributions. Their warm, harmonious vocals rise to the fore and draw you invitingly to lean in and listen close. It's as though we the listener are eavesdropping on a family as they have a candlelit living room worship session.
This unassuming approach makes for both an endearing quality in the age of flash and smoke, but could also be heard as its biggest drawback. Nothing demands attention, and for some listeners, this would mean a blend of sameness blurring together into one long song. On the other hand, if you're looking for a gentle set of background songs that has the chance to soundtrack the quieter moments of your day (which we all need), the time and repeat listens will be rewarded as the standouts rise to the surface.
Perhaps it's a harmony here ("Consolation Blues"), a whistle there, or a gentle guitar pluck ("Have Mercy on Us") that begins to slowly grab you. Or maybe a pastoral lyric ("I Know You Know") has the chance to become profound again as it points the weary back to Christ. This is a record all about the little nuances. As we get to track nine, "Lebanon," it moves the meter on the energy, giving a late-album boost to finish strong. Electric guitar, energetic drumming, and piano flourishes all work together for the most memorable and uptempo offering of the set. In turn, it sets up the light horn, acoustic guitar, and xylophone combo of the closer "Nunc Dimittis" (Latin for Canticle of Simeon found in Luke 2:29-32) perfectly.
Overall, Esther rewards the patient. If you're looking for the best entry point, the two singles in advance of the album, "Matthew 7:7" and "Isaiah, California," have been chosen excellently as a good taste of the remaining songs beyond the outlier "Lebanon." All in all, The Welcome Wagon has given yet another quality album that fans of early Sufjan, Half-Handed Cloud, and Sandra McCracken will enjoy.- Review date: 11/3/22, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Asthmatic Kitty Records
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