Stranger & Other Apparitions
Colorado singer-songwriter Dennis Wanebo offers up another plate
of imaginative soul searching.
Wanebo is a guy who once won one of those John Lennon
songwriting competitions, which got his tunes played on the
radio in the Colorado market. I have always appreciated his
smarts and I love his high-range vocals. I enjoy his stories,
and also enjoy hearing his influences, which come across
particularly strong in his work.
Working with his musical partner Bob
Story, Wanebo has a new CD out, The Stranger & Other
Apparitions, which is reviewed track-by-track on this page.
That cover art you see here is "Sweeping Squall" by Sushe Felix,
and it aptly illustrates the theme of Wanebo's album, which
seems to be resolution. It has him buffeted by memories of past
relationships and seeking a restful state, like at the end of a
Wanebo has a lifetime of experience to
draw from, as he creates his musical expressions, though you
wouldn't necessarily know that from his voice. He has a youthful
quality that erases any barrier that one might imagine would
exist for a senior songwriter writing for a junior world.
This new CD doesn't seem as ambitious in
scope as has much of his past work. He is more in coffee house
or theater mode here than usual, because he is a guy who will go
for the grand musical statement. This time around, he is far
less muscular and less science fiction oriented in his approach,
and more homey by far. He has come up with a bunch of good
songs. Overall, I wish that he had spent more time on his
lower-range vocals, that they were supported more with harmony
vocals, and that they were mixed further forward. I think he
might have pushed some songs across with more urgency, seeming a
little lethargic and unfocused in some instances. That said, I
am a big fan of Wanebo and if I had five stars to hand out, I'd
probably give this album 3.5. A remix and perhaps some improved
vocals could push it up to 4.5, but no matter. His stuff always
sounds great on Sunday morning, and in that mode The Stranger
& Other Apparitions is a fine entry.
The album opens with "Come On Back", an acoustic ballad of
longing that features two of the Wanebo-Story team's strong
Wanebo's lovely voice and Story's lovely slide guitar. "Misery
looses all her nerve whenever beauty ascends the stage..."
Wanebo references a Phrygian scale here, which is sort of odd
and gets the song off on a mysterious tide that flows into a
standard country ballad, occasionally referencing back to the
opening feel. It supports the narrative structure nicely,
putting the listener in the mind of the lonely suitor, swept
along by a wave a nostalgic memory and longing.
"Demolition Man" has a Parisian
nightclub vibe, decorated with a Hammond B3 decor. Christian
Teele is on drums and Eric Moon on keys, as they are throughout
the album. Wanebo's tunes often have the relaxed feel of one of
those Sunday morning mellow music shows, and this is one such.
There are nice female back vocals on this song, which go
uncredited, but Wanebo has a talented daughter whose work it
"It Can't Be" introduces an electric
guitar element, and it has a radio friendly chorus driven by
some nice harmony vocals. This tune has that soulful grunge you
associate with mountain folk, or possibly The Grateful Dead. It
brings Bob Weir to mind, to my ear.
"Bottomless Lakes" is a piano tune
turned rockabilly shaker, and it is quite effective. You start
with Cole Porter and then Buddy Holly here, a little Everly
Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, and a dose of '60s psychedelia
sneaking in around the edges. Interesting song. I can almost
feel the Fish in Wanebo's Country Joe.
"Interlude: Eclipse Over Alliance"
is a narrative section in which Wanebo muses on the recent solar
eclipse, which he witnessed from Alliance, Nebraska. (It is only
one of the many reasons to visit that rich area of interest.)
The lawyer in Wanebo is a good talker - he'd make a good
panelist on a show about anything - and here he talks about the
eclipse as a life-changing experience. He's like that
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, keen to the power of
nature, and he uses it to get to this line - "You see something
that you have never, ever seen in your life" - all to set the
stage for the next song.
"If Those Hands Could Speak"
features fine musicianship - love Teele's sensitive percussion
work - to support a spooky, swampy sound. "All those years ago
when there were no mouths to feed..." I have no idea what this
song is about, but it seems to recall interactions that left a
mark. I can't tell if it was good or otherwise, but the song
works well with mystery.
"The Stranger" features Wanebo's
facility with the high-range vocal. He is like two different
guys, the lower register one being a sensitive,
accessible, countrified every man, and the higher being this
other angelic form. If he stayed in the high range he'd be Brian
Wilson, who must have been an influence. This is a really good
song, with a strong chorus and a cool build repeat. It makes me
want to lick some window pane and hitchhike to L.A.
"Shut the Windows Please" is Brewer
& Shipley, if that means anything to anybody. This is an
acoustic style of music that was particularly popular around
1970, when there was a back-to-the-country feeling in the land.
You get banjo here and some down home references. "My sweet
mama, there's no real trauma..."
"Tending the Fire" - "there are
those beneath you sleeping softly with the lord..." Did he say
that? It would be a typical Waneboism. He loves an odd turn of
phrase and a weighted metaphor. This song is all about
custodianship, a tribute to those who "tend the fire", protect
the flame, preserve the world.
"Routine-able Me" puts Wanebo back
in coffee house mode, where he is really accessible. This song
is nicely arranged and the back vocals are dynamite. Whoever
this lady is, she has perfect pitch and a wonderful vocal
quality. This is another one of those Sunday morning songs. I
hear remnants of the commercial folk of the early '60s here -
The Kingston Trio, for instance. And I hear early Paul Simon,
who probably also liked those folk groups of that preceding
"Fly On the Wall" would have been
recorded by John Denver if John Denver was still singing. This
demonstrates Wanebo's ability to toss off a clever ditty without
really having to try at all. It is so commercial - maybe not
from this time, but from that previously referenced era - that
it feels off-the-shelf, clichéd in that way that would have once
put it on a platter.
"A Night at the Roadhouse" is a
clever tune, beautifully done. Love Moon's piano work. Wanebo
invites a crowd in, seats them in an orderly manner, and starts
the show with a relaxed groove tune that puts us all at ease. I
cannot imagine why he didn't open this album with this tune, as
it is sort of a countrified equivalent to the opening of Sargent
Peppers. "There's room for you and for me..."
"Lost and Found" is a hit for Dennis
Wanebo as a songwriter, and for this uncredited female vocalist.
This should be on Nashville radio right now, though it could
have been on L.A. radio in 1970, when Linda Ronstadt would have
sung it. Quite honestly, if Wanebo had a CD of songs with this
girl singing songs like this, he would be living in that place
previously owned by Warren Zevon and other smart, ridiculously
successful songwriters. This is the best song on the album. Not
sure why it is the last thing you hear, and this singer should
be getting credit!