Folktales

The Big Wu

Phoenix Rising Records, 2000

http://thebigwu.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/16/2000

With the recent vacation declared by Phish (note to the Associated Press: this was a planned break; the band has not broken up as of this writing), it's inevitable that their legion of fans are going to be trolling for other similar groups to satisfy their groove-rock fix. This is where bands like Minneapolis's The Big Wu will gladly fill the bill - though their most recent release (and second overall) Folktales shows this group still is in their growing phase.

The Big Wu can only be described as a poor man's Phish. They have the trip-rock sound down pretty well, but the guitar lines of Chris Castino and Jason Fladager don't have nearly the fluidness of a Trey Anastasio solo. Lyrically, The Big Wu doesn't go as far out on the spacey limb, but occasionally, that works to their disadvantage, as the music almost calls for an ethereal flow with everything.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Things start off in a promising manner with "Angie O'Plasty," which shows off the harmony vocals of Castino, Fladager and drummer Terry VanDeWalker. Sometimes, they almost seem too soft in the course of Folktales, but everything works itself into a happy medium on this particular number. A few other numbers, like "Elani" and "House Of Wu" (which reminded me a lot of "Llama") dare to suggest that The Big Wu could well have a strong claim to the throne.

The problem with Folktales is that these moments of piquing interest on the part of the listener are too few and far between. Tracks like "Oxygen" should be the ones that absolutely suck the listener into the world of Wu. Regrettably, this just doesn't happen. Maybe it's because the band is still very much learning about itself and its surroundings. Maybe it's because, as they claim, their songs are always being rewritten with each performance, and neither band nor audience can ever fully get to a level of comfort.

There was one touch on Folktales which showed the band has a lot of class. At the fadeout of the closing track "Shantytown" (the group's foray into reggae), you can hear an audience at one of the band's shows singing along to the chorus. Each member of that crowd is personally thanked in the liner notes. Nice move... and something that's gonna be hard to do if they start playing the big sheds.

There is promise in the music of The Big Wu, yet Folktales seems to suggest that is has been left unfulfilled this time around. Maybe, like their genre-mates, it takes a few albums before everything really clicks for them. Phish got it on the third try ( A Picture Of Nectar). Maybe The Big Wu will prove the third time's the charm for them as well.

Rating: C-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Phoenix Rising Records, and is used for informational purposes only.