whitewolfsonicprincess is a psychedelic folk-rock band that released their third album this past January in a two-volume collection called The Alternate Boot Vols. 1 & 2. The group emerged out of the avant-garde theater scene in Chicago by way of the Black Forest Theater Company, a performance group that presents edgy and original theater works. This neo-psych troupe has been compared to Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Neutral Milk Hotel, Son Volt and one of my favs, Cowboy Junkies (their first two albums are superb). According to the band, the songs on Alternate Boot are about life and loss, about being lost and being found, and the mysteries underlying everything. And, if you’re curious about the band’s name, they state that it’s a combination of symbols – a wolf in a princess hat, high-heels, a peace symbol armband, clutching a few wildflowers. The princess/wolf symbol embodies a series of dichotomies: male/female, animal/spiritual, body/soul, low-born/high aspiration, aggressive/peace-loving, darkness/light. Forever seeking wisdom in the consciousness of the natural world – ever-moving. Always exploring. This symbol can be found on their first recording 10+1.
Volume 1 starts off with, “So Clear” the first of seven songs that have an alt-country sound. The opener has a warm, inviting feel with a slow mellow rhythm. Guitars are in a style that harkens back to ‘50s vintage vibrations but with a more modern edge. The drums and bass have a nice, deep resonance to them. “Surfer Boy from Illinois” also begins with a slow, mellow rhythm and the congas/percussion in the background give the band’s sound a Latin-folk flavor. “Sadness in the World” offers just a bit of a faster tempo and a skipping beat. The lyrics provide commentary that may remind some listeners of the turmoil and turbulent politics of the ‘60s. The gentle, soothing background vocals really stood out on this one. “I Close My Eyes” brings a psych rock-folk groove that brings to mind some of the bands that were at Woodstock.
In “Song for Natalie” you’ll definitely hear the band’s alt-country style – I’d say more country flavored with the help of a lap steel or pedal steel guitar (I can never get those two right). “Last Laugh” features a drum rhythm played out between the toms and the snare (without the wire rake attached), which I always find to be a welcome sound. This particular song reminds me of a cross between Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Dire Straits. “Silver Moon” showcases beautiful violin sounds from Maria Storm and a mellow cello from Ben Davis. I thought this song’s style had a more avant-garde, free-form style and overall it was a great closer to the first volume.
Volume 2 opens with “Your Shining Eyes” – bright guitars, (with slide action a bit later), and a slow easy-going jam, coupled with what I can only describe as an eclectic, psych-gypsy rock sound that’s quite unique and refreshing to hear. I recommend listening to this one. “Salty Son” brings to the fold a faster, toe-tapping rhythm and crazy good bass lines. This one mixes a lot of influential bands – I can hear The Doors, The Beach Boys and Jefferson Airplane just to name a few – fantastic song! “They Don’t Really Know” features a full band sound that’s part folk rock, part southern rock with a great, moody feel that plays out in the band’s guitar chords. The strings add more tension to the mysterious mood of this number. Some parts remind me of the moodier songs of Gordon Lightfoot. Overall, I was blown away by this one.
“Brown Eyes” taps in again to the band’s more world, folk and neo-psych rock “gypsy” sound. The change in tempo structure and guitar picking gave this song great dynamic appeal. Think perhaps, Fleetwood Mac meets up with Loreena McKennitt and the Cowboy Junkies. “Dance a Wave” really threw a curve ball for me – just in the way the guitar sounded and the song’s overall arrangement. I really thought I was listening to something that perhaps R.E.M. once wrote with Patti Smith (albeit nowhere near in the punk style of Smith, but this one definitely has this alt-country pop rock feel). I guess it was the breaks between the verses that made me think of R.E.M. “Hand in Hand” is another of the band’s more unique and original pieces. The band adds some special effects amongst the song’s melody, giving it a psych-rock “Beatles-like” feel. Speaking of the melody, not to mention the song’s lyrics and arrangements, have a sad and reminiscent quality about them. There is a tenderness that I liked in this tune.
The last number is “Hand of Grace” the longest song on the entire album, but only by a few dozen seconds. This one meshes together a slow rhythm, a bit of a southern twang on the guitar and the warm, wood tones of the congas. In a way, this last song ends the album in a way that’s similar to how it opened – by introducing to the listener the band’s overall style and sound.
As a whole, whitewolfsonicprincess’The Alternate Boot provides a healthy variety for those who like something a bit more eclectic, neo-psych or otherwise unconventional. For me, I enjoyed Vol. 2 (songs 7-14) a bit better, mainly because I was hearing things that were quite inventive and memorable.
See this band live on Sept 4th in Evanston, IL. Check out the details here.
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