I’ve seen a quote attributed to the great Hank Williams: “A song ain’t nothin’ in the world but a story just wrote with music to it.” In Norse legend, the Three Norns sit at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of the world, and spin the threads of fate in the intertwined story of our lives.
In his fifth release, Seattle’s Wes Weddell and his band pick up this thread with Nobody’s Flag, a 10-song contemplation on the stories of our lives. The first track, “Gray” is inspired by The Wizard of Oz—with a personal reflection that what we’re looking for on the road was waiting for us back at home all along. Over the last five years, Weddell has written & performed original songs based on literature as part of a Seattle book club, and is now sharing the results. It could be gimmicky, but it’s not, and how often do we get to bounce from the likes of Slaughterhouse Five (Track 5, “Not Enough”) to Dr. Seuss (Track 9, “Too Many”)?
Stories, lyrics and the artist’s effort to go beyond the pop hook draw me to Roots music, and drew me to a second (and third and fourth) listen to this album. Because, I confess, on the first listen all I heard was a folk vocal that left me cold—nothing personal, but like Bob Dylan and many other folk artists, the vocal tone doesn’t please my ear, and yet like Dylan, the songs speak for themselves. Then even my tone-deafness resolves itself on the last track, “One Year Older,” a pean to a poem by Ed Skoog and title source:
Sometimes at night when I’m lying in bed
Those old singing cowboys run ’round in my head
They say “nice to meet you” and “will you stay long?”
And: “Look what went down once we passed the baton”
I would have expected “One Year Older” to sound like Gram Parsons, who has a cameo in the original, but the song emerges more like a Larry McMurtry cowboy lullaby than the Larry McMurtry song (Track 7, “Everything I Ever Wanted to Do”). That makes me smile a bit under my hat.
I also typically prefer a stripped-down production—just the facts, ma’am–though in this case the production seems not too much, or not enough, but just right. For instance, the arrangement with fiddle on Track 10 sets a Old West tone that would feel much different with a Byrds arrangement. The production delivers an Americana listening experience that complements Weddell’s lyricism and songwriting skill, spinning new threads in the musical story of our lives.