Album Review: Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — ‘Voilá’

Anthony Worden and the Illiterati Album Release Party w/ Jack Lion, Purple Frank

Gabe's -- Friday, Feb. 28 at 9:30 p.m.

Get half off your vinyl or CD purchase at the show with your canned good donation for CommUnity Crisis Center!

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Voilá, the latest from Iowa City band Anthony Worden and the Illiterati, is a record both timeless and out of time, drawing inspiration from an earlier era when bands focused not just on songwriting but creating an album as a full artistic statement.

Voilá clearly has two distinct sides, even though there aren’t current plans to release it on vinyl. Side one is the higher-energy rockers; starting at track six, side two wraps the album up with a spin through folky pop with a Laurel Canyon vibe.

A highlight from the rockers is the first single from the album, “Slightest Notion,” an honestly perfect execution of ’70s bouncy British guitar pop from the likes of Elvis Costello or Nick Lowe. The melody is carried equally by organ, guitar and vocals, and the smart use of Elly Hofmaier as a kind of second chorus really nails the sunny spirit of the song.

Track six, “What in the World,” works as an effective transition to the more mellow folky side, with foregrounded acoustic guitars and harmonies that recall the Mamas and the Papas. It also serves as a prelude to “Summer Days,” which, true to its name, is on the surface a sunny, Harrisonesque song, but hides a painful recollection of a relationship past. “Took a walk, but I didn’t get so far. Took a chance at the next open bar. Cost me more than I could ever be worth.”

It’s the last song on the album that highlights the band’s ace-in-the-hole. “Dime A Dozen Dudes” is a playful bit of soul that pays tribute to Jennifer Herrema of the legendary garage punk outfit Royal Trux. I asked Worden about the line, “Marshall amp on a skateboard, never could be ignored.” It references the story about Herrema taking her amp to CBGB’s on a skateboard.

“I think she properly subverted the dude rock and roll cliche,” he said.

Appropriate, then, that Hofmaier (who also performs solo around the area as Penny Peach, Jr.) steps into the limelight on this song, singing the chorus and duetting with Worden. The best moment of the track is at the end, when she belts a solo reminiscent of Merry Clayton on the Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter” or Clare Torry on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” This song promises to be a showstopper live.

Every band that sets out to make an album is presented with the nerve-wracking challenge of sequencing the songs. Do you want to tell a story? How do you get the smoothest transitions? Where do you put the single? That thoughtful effort paid off in spades with Voilá, a record that rewards listening to it in full, and often.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 279.

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