WYE OAK – “The Knot” CD ’09 (Merge, US) – WYE OAK. It’s a couple words that conjure some different things for me. The obvious, of course, is the aged historical tree, the oldest white oak in the U.S. and a pride of Maryland that was finally felled by a thunderstorm in 2002. It shared it’s first name with the town of Wye Mills, one that I passed a million times on my way across the Eastern Shore to summer spot, Ocean City.
The second is the teacher I had for 5th Grade. To be plain, the woman had the loudest mouth I’ve ever heard in my life. Virtually anywhere you stood in the 3-story school building at any time between 9:00 and 3:00, it was an even bet that you would be able to hear her screaming at the top of her lungs at somebody. She once had the audacity to put me out in the hallway for talking in class and while I was out there, she collected a project on which she then gave me a “zero” because I wasn’t there to turn it in. Nice. Anyway, after a number of years, she retired to Wye Mills and founded a company with her son, making an absolutely fabulous crab soup that sold all around Maryland. Years later, I felt a poignant tinge when I’d heard she’d died.
Thirdly, there was the summer night I walked into Fletcher’s night club in Fells Point, MD and onstage were a super-cool heavy and bluesy band called 60 Watt Shaman. As I turned to face the stage, the lead singer, a huge dude bathed in sweat and with the voice of 1000 years, leaned back and bellowed into the mic, “Wyeeeeeeee River!!!” The thundering rhythm, oppressive heat and desperately soulful vocal delivery instantly transported me to a sweltering back porch in an Eastern Shore town.
So what, you may ask, does all that have to do with “The Knot,” the 2nd effort from Maryland’s own WYE OAK? To me, the simple connection is that this duo (Andy Stack & Jenn Wasner) has chosen a name with great depth and who’s music correlates well with that. Interestingly enough, “The Knot” fell into my ears not long after reading Ripple Racer’s commentary on autumn as a season, and it’s a record that really has that feel. The instrumentation is still laced with sparks of the flickering embers of summer, yet there’s a starkness that creeps into the songs to hint of what’s to come. It’s a notable dichotomy in that, especially with Wasner’s vocals, a personable warmth comes through the other side, arising through the chill…one that speaks of the sparks of a fire, a warm drink and friends gathered ‘round. Sure, there’s enough forboding of the deep freeze to come, but that’ll be in time and it’ll be faced with the strength gleaned from the haunting, rising and oddly uplifting feel of songs like “For Prayer” and “Mary Is Mary. It’s almost like Neil Young & Crazy Horse having a religious epiphany on a frost-chilled mountaintop. I’m glad I can listen to the soundtrack. Knot To Be Taken Lightly