Bob Dylan handpicked this ragtag posse of vintage acoustic whizzes to open his 2009 tour of minor league baseball stadiums in an exercise in obscurity, eccentricity and, mostly, nostalgia. Named for an Irish street gang out of New York’s old Five Points neighborhood, the Wiyos vigorously embraced 1920s- and ’30s-style jug bands, Tin Pan Alley ensembles, vaudeville and a swinging New Orleans street idiom. Smoking ragtime guitar, thwacking upright bass and relentless metalfinger attacks on a washboard delivered energetic takes on traditional Americana. In short, they were drinking the same brand of hillbilly moonshine as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and enough of it to sound like a way more fun-timey version of Mumford & Sons.
However, Twist shows the times—along with the lineup and all established acoustic preferences—are a changin’. Exit ace axman Parrish Ellis and bassman Joseph Dejarnette and enter success, Pro Tools and some house-in-upstate-New York weirdness. Keyboards, effects, hard-driven electric guitar, distortion and even some beat-boxing (seemingly just to punch their purist followers in the ear) lead a windy aural soundscape of lyrical acrobatics. At times sounding like a more uptempo Felice Brothers, at others like the harmony-obsessed Fleet Foxes, and still sometimes like their former selves, the overall feel is that of an outfit more attuned to the North Mississippi Allstars than the Mississippi Sheiks.
Certainly traditionalists will fare well sticking to the group’s early efforts, but nuggets like the infectious jaw harp and twang of “Sally May” make it evident that The Wiyos are still one of the most volatile, impassioned and old-school of New Folk outfits.
As the Crow Flies
Croaking isn’t such a bad thing— at least, not in the case of Milwaukee folkie Justin Scott’s voice. As the Crow Flies finds him roughly divided between tragedy and triumph, sometimes within the same song. His distinctive vocal instrument sounds appropriately lived in and vaguely apocalyptic when it’s just him and his guitar. When he broaches electrified blues and calypso touches, perhaps at the behest of Semi-Twang’s John Sieger (listed as engineer/ mixer), the results are at least as enchanting. Though lacking the pliant quaver of a more internationally renowned Wisconsinite sharing his first name (looking at you, Mr. Bon Iver), Scott’s unique way of sounding well adjusted does the state’s folk scene proud.
—Jamie Lee Rake
(Smithsonian Folkways) East Los Angeles’ Quetzal opens its latest album on an almost traditional note with a tuneful nod to Mexico, but the Spanish lyrics about ecological devastation aren’t from the usual Norteño songbook. From there, the bilingual band moves confidently through a fiercely idiosyncratic set of original songs drawing on rock, hip-hop, R&B and elegantly elastic Latin rhythms.