The Welcome Wagon: Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
Style: Homespun folk; compare to Damien Jurado, Sufjan Stevens, Gram Parsons
Top tracks: "My Best Days, Parts 1 & 2," "Rice & Beans (But No Beans)," "High"
The Welcome Wagon's 2008 debut, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was widely praised. But a few thought it sounded a bit too much like a Sufjan Stevens album—it was, after all, produced by Stevens, included many instrumental and vocal contributions from Stevens, and was even released on Stevens's record label, Asthmatic Kitty. CT's own review even called it "essentially a glorified b-sides collection" from Stevens.
While their new album, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, is dedicated to Stevens, his appearances are brief and discreet. Recorded at an old rectory in Brooklyn with warm production from Alexander Foote, the new record is similar in its folksy style but belongs wholly to Vito Aiuto—pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood—and his wife, Monique.
Vito Aiuto loosely structured this album after the type of liturgy you're likely to see at Resurrection or any other Presbyterian church—which is to say, it's something like a picture of the gospel itself. The beauty of a good liturgy is the way it walks a participant (believing or not) through the message: confession of sin, promise of redemption, joyful response, etc.
Precious Remedies has all those elements and then some. There's a simple, gorgeous cover of The Cure's "High," which here serves as a love letter from Aiuto to his wife. "Would You Come and See Me in New York?" finds him asking the title's question to his late father in plainspoken yet heartbreaking fashion. "Rice & Beans (But No Beans)" is a meditation on community done with pedal-steel guitar, saloon piano, and a walking bass that would warm Gram Parsons's cockles.
Much of the album's strength lies in these juxtapositions. Aiuto reworks centuries-old hymns ("Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending," "The Strife Is O'er") while also covering "Remedy," a 2007 worship song by David Crowder. Some songs get quiet, tender arrangements, while others boast a full choir and brass.
An upbeat, jangle-pop version of the 1880 Jeremiah Rankin hymn "God Be with You 'Til We Meet Again" serves as the album's benediction, but fortunately it doesn't end there. Vito and Monique take the listener to their home after the evening service for an intimate rendition of "Nature's Goodnight," just acoustic guitar and accordion providing the backdrop as the couple alternates singing.
If you're the type who's tempted to write off the Welcome Wagon as some mere export of hipster Christianity from Williamsburg (the national epicenter of self-conscious irony), you'll have a hard time doing so. Precious Remedies is utterly sincere and devoid of pretense. Aiuto doesn't re-work old hymns or name his album after a 17th century Puritan devotional because vintage is in. It's because he believes these words. He preaches them every week. He sings them with his wife—and, often, a handful of friends—in their living room. And they're inviting you to sing along.
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