Needle Feather & a Rope
In April 2009 I watched a Frontline documentary, The Released, about what happens to mentally ill inmates after they're paroled. A psychiatrist questioned a man who had spent 21 years in prison for murder and had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He heard voices. The doctor asked him what the voices were saying. They were hungry, he said, they wanted to be fed and they were afraid. God beat them. 'So they start crying. They got a needle. They got a needle and they got a feather and they got a rope. God give it to them, a needle, a feather, and a rope.' I laughed. But the words stayed with me over the next few days, and a needle, a feather, and a rope became everything we have, everything we don't have, our fates and temptations, what we do with what we're given, what we don't do, who we become because of what we do or don't do with what we're given. Needle, feather, and rope are knitting terms, stitches and tools. I thought about all the other images those words conjure. Later I read a paragraph in Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions that I understood well. 'The prostitutes worked for a pimp now. He was splendid and cruel. He was a god to them. He took their free will away from them, which was perfectly all right. They didn't want it anyway. It was as though they had surrendered themselves to Jesus, for instance, so they could live unselfishly and trustingly--except that they had surrendered to a pimp instead.' I grew up on a street in San Francisco where prostitutes and pimps bought and sold themselves daily. The scene under my bedroom window was a circus, a market, a world. There was a church on the corner, an elementary school, community centers, a music school. I'm telling you this so that you know some of my reference points, how the song grew, where the album came from. Between August 2009 and the end of the year, I began playing my songs with Misha, Max, Daniel, and Adam. We're proud of the music we recorded. It's dedicated to Vic Chesnutt. Alexei Credits: released 1 April 2011 All songs written by Alexei Wajchman* © 2011 (BMI) Produced by Lemon DeGeorge and Blind Willies Recorded by Jay Pellicci in June 2010 at Tiny Telephone in SF Additional overdubs recorded by Charles Gonzalez at Radical House, SF Mixed by Justin Phelps (tracks 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 14) and Gabriel Shepard (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12) at Hyde Street Studios, SF Mastered by Paul Stubblebine, SF The album was recorded and mixed all analog. CD package is a 6-panel digipak with clear tray. 8-panel foldout insert includes all lyrics and band photos. BLIND WILLIES Alexei Wajchman: vocal, guitar, harmonica Adam Coopersmith: drums Daniel Riera: bass Max Miller-Loran: keys, trumpet Misha Khalikulov: cello GUESTS 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, and all the boys Art Direction, Design: B. Wajchman Photoshop Genie: Ariel Sommer Cover illustration and title by Emile B. Klein in homage to Giulietta Masina, Federico Fellini, Charlie Chaplin, Baptiste, and all the Children of Paradise *Absolutely Isabel was inspired by a traditional, Rattlesnake, collected by Alan Lomax Special thanks to Lemon DeGeorge, John Vanderslice, Isaac Pingree, Alrik Bursell, our guests, our families Diggory Records 2011 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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 with George Watsky, 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. Blind Willies has played San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (NY), Berkeley's Freight and Salvage, SF's Great American Music Hall, The Folk Project's Minstrel Concert Series (NJ), San Luis Obispo Folk Music Society Concert Series, SF's Summer Sailstice Festival, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Zeum, SF Folk Festival, and smaller venues in the Bay Area and NYC. The Unkindness of Ravens (2007) and Everybody's Looking for a Meal (2008) were recorded and mixed by Lemon DeGeorge (Jolie Holland, film Genghis Blues) at Crib Nebula in San Francisco, and mixed and mastered by Paul Carlsen (Nirvana's Nevermind, Neil Young). Needle, Feather, and a Rope (2011) was produced by Lemon DeGeorge and Blind Willies, recorded by Jay Pellicci (Deerhoof) at TinyTelephone, mixed by Justin Phelps (Dresden Dolls, Cake) and Gabriel Shepard (Peter Case, Frank Black), and mastered by Paul Stubblebine (Ry Cooder, John Lee Hooker). 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/No Pigeonholes, Hanx/Netherlands, Crossroads/Netherlands, Heart of the Night & 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. REVIEWS: '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.' Boyhowdy, Cover Lay Down '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 incredible range of emotional nuance.' Laurel Kathleen, Best New Bands '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).' Jeremy Schlosberg, Fingertips Music '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 'Creative songwriting. Cello and horns sound great. Can be played on a variety of shows.' DJ Coach, KAFM '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, accordion 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 it's 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'' Ben Hughes, Uber Rock, UK 'On their third album Blind Willies open with the crazy mad-eyed fin-de-siecle carny sound of "One Dime Down", which constantly teeters on the edge of chaos but by means of it's momentum manages to reach the end successfully. The album as a whole takes this as it's touchstone, as main man Alexei Wajchman has constructed a mad collage that isn't quite folk, isn't quite blues and isn't quite Americana but could equally be classified as any of those things and several others besides. It's intense and demanding music, uneasy listening. It's angular and jagged, Wajchman's voice alternately howling and caressing the lyrics . . . as [he] draws you into his world and his mad poetry.' Jeremy Searle, Americana UK '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.' Tony DuShane, SF Chronicle 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. Aiding & Abetting #329 John Worley.