The Wilhelms “Film at 11”
Release date: October 29, 2013 Perdition Records 0016
Contact: john at roughshop dot com
I like to imagine John Wendland stepped off the plane and into the St. Louis airport 20 years ago only to bump into Andy Ploof as he was walking to meet some other musician. Amidst a comic swirl of pages from songs in notebooks flying in the air, Ploof said, “Hey, you got rock ‘n’ roll on my folk music,” and Wendland said, “You got folk music on my rock ‘n’ roll.”
Two great sounds that sound great together, you see.
Of course, neither Ploof nor Wendland lived in any kind of musical vacuum before they met, but there is no question that the two have changed the way each has played since then. First in the acoustic grace of the band One Fell Swoop, and later in the electric ensemble known as Rough Shop, Ploof and Wendland have prodded each other, learned from each other and truly grown together, as musicians, songwriting partners and friends — over hundreds of nights in basements, bars, back rooms and stages from Missouri to Europe.
Ploof and Wendland continue to perform and record with Rough Shop, but a restless desire — to explore new songs and new arrangements, to immerse themselves in the old-time folk music they love — has led them to create this side project, the acoustic duo now called the Wilhelms.
Recorded by Gary Gordon in Sparta, Illinois, “Film at 11,” the debut album from the Wilhelms, contains four Wendland originals, three by Ploof, three co-writes, and three cover songs. There is not a note on this record that isn’t passionate, elegant or perfectly chosen. Even with just two people (though Ploof alone can play practically any stringed instrument, and Wendland knows guitar, mandolin and harmonica), the arrangements are designed to engage the listener with the sonic sanctity of each song.
Yes, I said sanctity. To quote Wendland’s “Music”: “That’s just how powerful it is/Nothing can stand in its way.”
Throughout the course of the album, love is sought, lost, found and placed in perspective. Music itself is celebrated for its emotional connections, not just once, but twice. Life is sometimes graceful, sometimes empty and often exquisite in its simple pleasures. Ploof’s acoustic guitar, dobro and mandolin leads capture the spirit of the two singers’ delicately designed melodies. Wendland and Ploof harmonize, sometimes as if they were one voice, sometimes merely to offer support to what the other has to say.
In the end, Ploof and Wendland celebrate the town they both call home with “St. Louis Song.” “This is not the place I came from/Something brought me here/Now it looks like I am here to stay.” Whether they collided in an explosion of sheet music or merely met as most musicians do by being a part of a shared community, Ploof and Wendland write songs and play them together because music really is what matters.
No sense taking chances and leaving the place where that music happens, the place called home.