The Waifs - Temptation

With an independent spirt that has served them well throughout their career, the Waifs return with Temptation, relased through Compass Records. Does the album rival the best or the worst of roots music in 2011?

The Waifs have done two things that very few other bands have managed to successfully do three things that few bands before them have managed to do. They managed to survive two of their members breaking up without replacing either member. They have also managed to create a signature sound while switching lead vocal and writing duties among themselves. Most importantly, they have managed to create and release independent music, and they have managed to make a living at it for almost twenty years. Long before “indie” and “roots” because buzz words for marketers, The Waifs were touring the world making indie, roots music. It has been a few years since Sundirtwater, the last studio album from The Waifs. Temptation is a more consistent album, one that finds the band more comfortable, and more adventurous in exploring their new American roots. It may well be their best album yet.

The album starts low, slinky and growling, with Donna Simpson performing “I Learn the Hard Way.” “The wind blew you in, now you're blowing me away,” she confesses, “baby I know heartache like a nursery rhyme.” Of the sisters, Vikki Thorn has always been the more metaphorical songwriter. This comes tot he forefront on her tender ballad, “Buffalo,” which is reminiscent of her newly married life in Utah. Simpson has always been the sister who could tell huge stories with the smallest turns of phrase. On “Just Like Me,” she suddenly transforms a meandering tale of city life into a painful ballad of addiction and recovery akin to Kristofferson's classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Thorn unleashes her shimmering alto on the album's fourth track. “Beautiful Night” is a deceptively simple and supple song about domestic bliss. Josh Cunningham branches out in a new direction on this album, and he brings the rest of the band with him. “Moses and the Lamb” is a gritty fire and brimstone sermon that finds Cunningham adopting the pose of a Pentecostal preacher while the sisters form a rugged gospel choir behind him. The band's tightly woven harmonies come into the forefront on “Falling.” It's a bright and happy, bouncy tune that finds Simpson's voice bursting with joy. “Some days I'm leaning on my twelve-step program, meetings and testimony to get me through,” Thorn sings on “Some Days.” “Most days I've got a drink in my hand because most days I can't stop thinking about you.” The girls share lead on Cunningham's second track, “Drifting, Dreaming,” a quiet and perfectly layered harmony accompanied very lightly by guitars and a bell like triangle. “In dreams I let my double do the things I won't when awake,” they sing, their voices soft, light and contemplative. The bright, almost carnivalesque melody of “Day Dreamer” belies the darker themes. Thorn's voice, however, hold true to the center of this song about a woman escaping a bad relationship. Cunningham's preacher persona returns for the title track. It is a song as gospel in its construction as “Moses and the Lamb,” but quieter, more introspective and delicate. The album closes with the stunning “Goodbye Darling” that finds them highlighting everything that is the best about the Waifs.

The Waifs are a band with a storied history that stretches back further than most of their peers, which has survived tribulations that has torn many other bands asunder. That they have persevered is a testament both to their love of music and to their dedication to always making music their way. Temptation is the latest in a long line of album steeped in talent and creativity. As such, it would be easy to write it off as just another Waifs album. However, there is no using the word just when talking about The Waifs. Temptation was recorded mostly live to tape over a period of ten days, and because of that it has an immediacy that is missing from some of their earlier work. It contains almost the same energy as their live albums, but with the sheen of studio polish. It is a deep and rich album that will sooth the soul of any Waifs fan, or any fan of good roots music.

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