The Little Wretches Release New Full Length Live Album
I think sometimes the worse mark and album can carry is that it can be too impersonal. In the country margin of things, we’re used to the “I love blondes and beer” methodology that’s become commonplace in pop culture, but it ends up not saying anything about the human experience beyond surface-level terms, but it also doesn’t tell us anything about the artist.
Robert Andrew Wagner of Little Wretches, and his latest release, Live at the Mattress Factory, is one of the most personal glimpses you can into an artist this year, and whether you agree or disagree with his points of view, you can’t deny the vision on display. Boasting a seemingly gargantuan 24 tracks, although half of them are intros comprised of stories by Wagner or interactions between him and his audience, this densely packed up starts off incredibly disillusioned and somewhat cynical, and over the course of its run time becomes almost a desperate plea to future generations. One of Wagner’s strengths is that he’s never overly precious about the past.
Whether he’s talking about his family, youth, money, anything really, he doesn’t coddle it or hold it up to some pedestal level value. He also comes across as someone who’s incredibly cynical about capitalism and the work/working-class relationship as heard in tracks like Promised Land and its follows up The Remains of Joe Magarac. Both of these songs hide behind more contemporary parables, even Promed Land starting off with reference to the Jews escaping Egypt, before translating to modern-day and looking at how, even with modern sensibilities and resources, it’s easy to feel trapped and questions how free is anyone when money seems to be the bare minimum of what can be considered “freedom”. Yeah, needless to say, if you’re looking for some “light” listening, you’ll most likely have to turn elsewhere. Wagner is charismatic and his voice is cut from the cloth of 60s philosophical types like Bob Dylan and the late Lou Reed.
His vocabulary is his biggest asset which is what leads me to assume why he chose such a stripped-down aesthetic for the album with only his guitar, the fantastic David Maund on Violin, and the occasional harmonica outburst as heard in the album opener. Some might grow a bit uncomfortable in the over-familiarity on display. There’s a story involving Wagner’s father that I think was intended to highlight the trivial nature men take with something as seemingly precious as the virginity of women that kind of falls painfully flat and leaves a bitter taste as it enters into the track “Preacher Girl”.
Luckily it’s the only noticeable blemish on an otherwise progressive and inward thinking album that wants us to challenge ourselves and notions of what makes us truly happy. There’s a reason why the album ends with a song about chasing your dreams, regardless of risk. This album was a risky venture and it won’t pay off for everyone, but for someone like me and for others, Wagner is a new sharp voice we need in a seemingly ambivalent world.