Harmonious Wail

Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, 1995

You’ll be smiling from the moment this CD starts to play. The swinging beat is infectious, and the overall feel is that of a bunch of friends who truly enjoy playing music together.

Harmonious Wail is truly a team effort. Almost a dozen musicians appear on "Airborne," and the songwriting credits are spread around. The hub of this wild wheel is a talented trio made up of Sims and Maggie Delaney-Potthoff and Doug Brown. The title song is a refreshing, airy melody he lays down for the others to flit about like butterflies; each adding his or her own particular bit of color. Maggie Delaney-Potthoff is gifted with a voice that may be well trained but sound completely natural and relaxed.

The musicianship of Harmonious Wail cannot be denied. Whether it’s Sims on the mandolin or Jon Vriesacker on the violin, their techniques are so polished as to be completely transparent. What shines through is a sincere love of the acoustic swing-jazz they’re playing so well. You can tell they’ve been together some time, long enough to develop on effortless and seamless integration. These musicians have reached the point where they can simply get down and enjoy what they’re doing. Brown handles an acoustic guitar like a master. His jazzy style is characterized by amazing finger-picking skill. The recording engineer knew how to let this come through, and since the band themselves were co-producers they were there to make sure it did.

There is a comfortable sort of quirkiness about this CD, much like the sense of humor that imbues any gathering of good friends. It is strangely reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s celebrated and just-as-jazzy Mothers of Invention, though of a more friendly and less cynical sort. On songs like "5 Guys Named Moe" and "Dat Dere," that quirkiness seems good-natured and inoffensive. On "The Last Days of Pompeii" it’s even sophisticated, more like that of Technical Difficulties. Even the more serious songs, like the bluesy "Why Don’t You Do Right" and "I Knew it Was Love," have an undertone of basic contentment with life in general. Finally, you gotta’ dig the Wail’s fun rendition of Fats Waller’s "Sin to Tell a Lie."

As a matter of fact, if this CD doesn’t set your toe to tapping and a smile on your face, you should probably get medication.

Dirty Linen #51, April/May 1994

Wisconsin-based string band Harmonious Wail alternates between classic swing tunes ("Why Don’t You Do Right," "5 Guys Named Moe," "It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie") and original contemporary swing instrumentals ("Emmet’s Tune," the title piece). The group, consisting of mandolinist Sims Delany-Potthoff, his similarly stunning spouse Maggie on vocals, and guitarist Doug Brown, is augmented on this recording by various floutists, fiddlers, percussionists, and bass players. Their tightly focused instrumental chops show years of playing together, and their vocals, particularly the occasional trios (e.g., a classy cover of Michael Smith’s "Last Days of Pompeii") are confident and right on target. In particular, they have a great feel for the vintage swing material, and manage to remain true to the spirit of the originals while infusing the songs with contemporary chops and energy.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: