I first met Amanda Winterhalter through the Bushwick Book Club, so it’s fitting that her first song with Ball of Wax is a Bushwick song. In fact, the night I saw her play this song – we were both performing at an event featuring music inspired by the work of different writers from the group Seattle7Writers – was the night I said to myself “yes, let’s do a voices-only Ball of Wax, and let’s have that song be part of it.” (Of course I promptly forgot/waffled on that plan and didn’t decide on it again until four months later.) Thankfully Amanda graciously acceded to my request to include her beautiful, Appalachian-style ballad – inspired, appropriately enough, by the tale of the Carter Family as presented in Frank Young and David Lasky’s graphic novel The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.
I know, I know, there were a lot of references in that paragraph. Bushwick? Seattle7? Carter Family? But truly, you don’t need any of that background info to appreciate the sad, unadorned beauty of Amanda’s tune, lamenting a life gone wrong and a useless cure. Just click play, and then go buy your tickets so you can experience the in-person version at the BoW 44 release show June 11th at the Fremont Abbey.
“The Ravens’ Feast” sounds like a timeless folk song, composed of a simple, repeated melodic figure that gives way to a soaring resolution in the last third of the minute-and-a-half or so track. As far as I can tell, however, it’s an original composition that showcases the clear, confident voices of Annie Ford along with Valerie Holt and Anne Matthews of the Lonely Coast. This is sparse, gripping Americana of the highest order, somber and ghostly and a wonderful addition to the vocals-only Ball of Wax collection.
Come see Annie Ford and the Lonely Coast perform “The Ravens’ Feast” and other songs at the Ball of Wax 44 release show on June 11th at the Fremont Abbey.
Holly Small (last heard on Volume 42 with her take on the meaning of life) returns with another unapologetically sweet, R&B-infused tune – with, of course, no instruments but her own pipes. “Break” is another love song from Holly, and a fine entry into the canon. Backing her confident lead vocal up with a note-perfect chorus of oohs and ahhs, Holly almost turns herself into a one-woman Boyz II Men (Girl II Women?) – and I do mean that as a compliment (I mean, maybe their music isn’t for you, but there’s just no arguing with these dudes’ vocal chops). “Only you can break my heart” is just such a great line for a bittersweet love song, too. “Break” is yet another splendidly written and sung tune from Holly Small.
“Ribbons of Sun” plays and listens like a typewriter. Colin Isler sings a line, leaves you to ponder what he’s just said amidst hmms, ohhs, and a Friday the 13th-esque tcha tcha tcha tcha. It has an eerie effect. and then cha-ching, the carriage resets and the song’s onto the next line. And the lines end with this discord. Or, skip the typewriter analogy. Instead, picture a clock ticking in the background that’s connected to some mad scientist’s contraption consisting of industrial scraps which is distilling ancient potions which will be used to convince the listener to “believe me.” But you must make it to the climax to really appreciate what Colin Isler is doing in this song. He’s building tension from the beginning, and then stop and enter the call, “Oh please, believe me,” and then he resolves it all back to where he started. And if you miss it, shame on you.
I am so glad Seth Swift et al. took up my all-vocals challenge to concoct this delightfully twisted hip-hop tune about insecurity, lice, and boogers. Just four tracks in we’ve seen the stark, solo vocal; the multi-tracked faux rock band; the sweet looping duo; and the straight up doo-wop barbershop quartet – and now on track five we have something completely different: Voices effected and twisted six ways to Sunday and turned into drum machines, basses, synths, and who knows what all, backing up Swift and guest vocalist Tim Stiles’s sad and ridiculous tale of woe. Every single piece that was submitted to me for this volume of Ball of Wax treated the vocals-only constraint as a challenge, but used it to create pieces that stand on their own and that I would want to keep listening to whatever the instrumentation. “Scratching My Head” is no exception.
On “Not Bad,” Seattle’s Mts. and Tunnels go full pop doo-wop and they absolutely kill it. While the first “bum, ba bum”‘s of the barbershop quartet bass parts seem a tad hokey for a second, the lead vocal and harmony parts chase away any fears that “Not Bad” might be not that good. “Not Bad” is actually pretty great, the kind of clear-hearted, unencumbered pop goodness that one might presume would have been a feel-good radio hit at some point in the hazy past. The vocal performances are really impressive; lead Mts. and Tunneller Chris Poage lands a passionate, throaty “This heart of mine / with that heart of yours / channels a power / that can blow off the doors” without a trace of sarcasm or pastiche. The song then pull off bridge and turnaround before landing back in the bouncy, super satisfying verse. Just really well-written, well-arranged and well-performed stuff.
[We’re proud to welcome a new writer to the fold. You’ve probably heard Matty P on Ball of Wax and/or seen him on stage at a BoW release show, whether as a member of the Foghorns Bucket o’ Bourbon Choir or singing his own songs under the Karaoke Hottiez moniker. He’s graciously volunteered to lend his wordsmithing skills to the Blog of Wax, and we’re happy to have him. Welcome Matty!]
Floating up like the effervescence in the glass bottle of a sparkling mineral water. Fine sounds crisp and clear coming together like baby angels singing in a little tree house cathedral. This all-vocal song by Swooning follows a melody and lyrics which harken back to the simplicity of an early sixties pop radio hit. the singers sound off in a childlike manner that is reminiscent of Andrea Estrella from the short lived Brooklyn project, Twin Sister, although Swooning has an edge and direction all its own. The diction and phrasing in “Sun and the Moon” goes back and forth from predictably pleasing to the ear to playfully keeping the listener on edge and pleasantly surprised.
Catch Swooning live at the Ball of Wax 44 release show on Saturday, June 11th!
There are a bunch of different ways you can approach an a capella arrangement. Ainara LeGardon went with an unaccompanied voice singing the lyrics and melody, simple and sparse. Head Ball of Waxer Levi Fuller went another in another direction with his cover of Jawbox’s “Mirrorful,” using his voice to mimic the instruments in a rock ensemble a la the great Michael Winslow from the Police Academy movies. It’s all in there: “weee-ooh wee-ooh” electric guitars, beatbox drums, “doo-doo” bass parts – and it all works. After a few bars you adjust to the simulacra and the song pulls together nicely. On the pre-chorus and chorus, more Levi voices appear like a hydra sprouting heads and the song approaches some giddy heights. Kudos to Levi for going all out with “Mirrorful.”
The 44th volume of Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly – containing only sounds originating from the mouths of humans – starts with this stark, haunting beauty by Ainara LeGardon. “Last Day” opens Ainara’s most recent album, Every Minute, which I’ve listened to enough that it’s hard to think of this song as anything but an opening track, so here we are. You will hear an impressive range of approaches on this collection, ranging from solo ballads to tight, barbershop-style harmonies, to weirdo hip-hop and mind-boggling sound collage, but we start here, with Ainara’s clear, forceful voice and enigmatic, slightly terrifying lyrics. It’s enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and while it may not exactly set the tone for the next 19 tracks, it certainly sets the vocal performance bar pretty high.
Ball of Wax Volume 44 Release Show
The Lonely Coast with Annie Ford / Amanda Winterhalter / Swooning / Virgin of the Birds / Kelly Morgan
Saturday, June 11
All ages / 8:30pm
$8 early discount/$10 advance/$13 door (Ball of Wax 44 CD included with entry)
Please join us as we celebrate the release of Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly Volume 44, an astoundingly diverse collection of tracks made exclusively with the human voice. The show will include both a capella and instrumentally-accompanied performances from several of the contributors to BoW 44, which also features new music from Mts. & Tunnels, Heather Duby, Colin Isler, and many more.
We’ll be rolling out the tracks for Ball of Wax 44 over the next few weeks, so stay tuned! I’m really proud of how this collection turned out, and am super excited to celebrate its release with you all at the beautiful Fremont Abbey. See you there!