Listening to Front Porch, Alex Wise comes across as equal parts J.J.
Cale and the Grateful Dead — a strange mix given Wise's ostensibly outriography.
Wise went to grad school at Tufts and Harvard. He spent sundry years
immersed in the wonderful vulgarities of the record industry before latching
on to the dot-com boom. During these periods, Wise continued his insatiable
appetite for old bebop and blues recordings. The interest that reached a
personal creative head with the formation of his jazz-funk band The Shreep.
The Shreeps' debut CD, Shreep Walkin, featured covers by artists as
diverse as Karl Denson and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, revealing an adequate
knowledge of jazz. Even more flummoxing, in Japan the sales of the Shreep
release have reached the 1,000-disc point.
Notice any dissonance or discord here? An Ivy league educated student with a
predilection for jazz venturing into the world of blues and folk musings?
Personal experience, the hallmark of such recordings, could be a problem.
Ahhh, but to be in 2003 and in love with Post Modernity. Despite the
biography, the discord, and other unknown circumstances surrounding Wise's
Front Porch, the most important aspect, the music, has enough depth
to warrant its own analysis. Toss aside the author aspect and confine the
analysis to the music, and Front Porch does well in its hybrid
conflation of J.J. Cale's and the Grateful Dead's spaciousness.
The Cale references become apparent when hearing Wise's voice. Wise sings,
but does so with a droning quality. He hides and masquerades within the
music rather than above it. On "Touched by a Willow," for example, titling
them lead vocals comes across as a misnomer; they actually appear as a back
up instrument, floating in and out of the mix with capriciousness. A vowel
here, a consonant there will come forth, but the lyrics and vocals just
never stand out.
Which fits the aura of the music perfectly. The melange of dobros, bass,
drums, didgeridoos, harmonica, and god-knows-what-else sounds like a slow
moving swamp boogie by the Dead circa 1969. A track such as "Muddlin" has a
rather apt eponym. The music gestates at a languid rate, sounding remarkably
relaxed, spacious and yet consistently sluggish. But such rhythms match the
vocals, or rather meld with the vocals so well, that despite never pickings
up pace they successfully solidify the images they are supposed to convey.
In never rushing, which dubiously creates this rocking chair vibe alluded to
in the album's title, Wise sounds remarkably comfortable. His flatpicking
and arrangements are appealing, despite never becoming saliently riveting.
The lyrics, about lazy rivers, love lost, muggy haze, and stone streets,
when they surface in the slow moving current of music, have a veracity in
their slowed delivery and pace.
Which seemed shockingly implausible given Wise's biography. So maybe
Post-Modern theory does have merit beyond the alabaster walls of academia.