With the Woes’ latest release, Heaven Knows, the New York collective has woven a pastiche of dusty folk, bluegrass, Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, a pinch of punk and vintage R&B into a surprisingly cohesive whole.
“The Secret” opens the album marching on a staccato bass line. It’s a set of colorful costumes away from rocking the French Quarter. “The Secret” would be a complete wreck in the hands of an amateur, but bandleader Osei Essed keeps the sundry elements in line. Essed highlights individual elements by harmonizing with the horn section, giving the accordion a bar here and there to open up a bit, and letting the harmonica player tear into a fiery solo. The tight structure of the song adds a punch to the touch of punk which seeps in, after each refrain a team of backing vocalists gnash on some “yeahs” like a chorus of cackling hyenas.
Not everything on Heaven Knows thrives on a rollicking, kitchen-sink aesthetic. The Woes light a few stripped down torch songs. “A Heart for Dreaming” stands out as the strongest with a mournful, minor key violin and haunting rustles of pedal steel guitar. It’s starts off sounding a little tear in the beer, bare and taught, with Essed’s laments and the violin taking the lead, before the drums really kick in and the violin knocks off some violent staccato stabs while Essed gets some catharsis howling out the chorus.
Yet, like a dormitory mattres, Heaven Knows gets sags a little in the middle. The Woes stuck “Broke Again (An Improvisation)” smack in the heart of the record to help bolster a live feel. However, the shambling mess of “Broke Again” seems less affable and playful with the weakest composition, “For Nothing,” nipping at it’s heels. The Latin-tinged barn-burner of “Sranan” and the raucous, vengeful “Hanging’s Fair” wrap things up on a high, energetic note.
The Woes will be at The Mill with Shame Train on Saturday, March 13.