There is a moment, a split-second of the album closer "Wonderfully Bizarre" that is cribbed directly from Elton John's "Benny And The Jets," the quick, ascending staircase chord change right before the "B-B-B Benny." It produces a unique sensation, somewhere between déjà vu, some half-remembered childhood memory or a distant dream, and then it is gone.
The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, wrote of "the uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche, "the opposite of the familiar") to describe the sensation of something that is almost familiar, but not quite. The theory is most often used in the phrase "The Uncanny Valley" with movies like The Polar Express or Beowulf inadvertently ending up being described as "creepy" with the computer animation looking like nothing so much as a chorus line of animated corpses.
Music and literature seem to be more resistant to The Uncanny, thankfully. Maybe it's because both music and books, in general, are made up of threaded and interwoven phrases. Quotation is common, expected even, to help the listener know where they are, where they're going, what they're in for, as well as providing vital insights into the musician's background.
The Uncanny sensations produced while listening to Consensual Wisdom, from Louisville, KY's Ryan Anderson, aka Bendigo Fletcher, is an asset rather than a stone in the passway.
Consensual Wisdom sounds undeniably "old timey" being made up almost exclusively of Anderson's vocals and acoustic guitar with little to no studio polish or trickery. Anderson is a wonderfully gifted guitar player, liberally peppering his Tin Pan Alley tunes with jazz chords and ragtime licks. These complicated harmonics give a rich and delicious flavor to Anderson's original compositions.
The feeling of uncanniness saves this record from being merely nostalgic, making it interesting rather than a complete waste of time. There was a period, in the mid-'00s, when it seemed like every band was busting out banjos and washboards, singing in three point close harmony, pretending to be a band of siblings that had grown up together, barefoot and in overalls.
And while the coal miners of America are undoubtedly grateful for their appreciation, slapping some bottleneck slide guitar and fiddle does not a Coal Miner's Daughter make. I'm sorry, Mr. Brooklynite, your ballads of the horrors of the mineshaft, the hardships of having to wake up at 4 to milk the cows, rather unbelievable and insincere. I'm sure my family back home that, you know, actually did those things might feel the same.
Nostalgia is deadly to a healthy society. Consensual Wisdom is the difference between nostalgia and appreciation, taking the raw proteins of traditional music and spinning a brand new entity. This helped me to appreciate Consensual Wisdom, which seems to draw a lot of inspiration from '70s singer-songwriter fare like Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. I'm personally biased against anything silly or lighthearted in music. To answer Frank Zappa's question "Does humor belong in music?" I reply "No, absolutely not, under any circumstances." I got a bit of a wacky, zany vibe from album opener "Soul Factory" and, had that persisted or been the only factor, I'd be ripping this record to shreds like a kid opening Star Wars playsets on Christmas morning.
Instead, it was a minor foible that I was able to get past, ultimately enjoying Consensual Wisdom a great deal. For people inspired by the past, without pretending to live there, give this one a spin!
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