The Waifs

Up All Night

by Jason MacNeil

30 July 2003

 

The Waifs, an Australian trio, haves been going non-stop for the past couple of years with a touring schedule that would even make Bob Dylan blush. From Australia to North America to Europe and back to North America, sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson along with Josh Cunningham have finally hit paydirt. The previous album, Sink or Swim proved to be a perfect title. And the album thankfully swam then soared. Earlier this year, the group opened up some Australian shows for Bob Dylan. So impressed was he by the trio that he asked them to join him for a string of North American dates earlier this spring. This new album isn’t as folk or as pop-oriented than the last album, but the country tinges show another remarkable side to the band.

Sounding as if they’ve recorded the album on a front porch somewhere in Mississippi, the sisters start with “Fisherman’s Daughter”. “I’m just you regular west Australian daughter / I’m a middle class folk singing guitar playin’ girl,” Donna (or is it Vikki?) sings with a slightly tired sound resembling Bonnie Raitt or Lucinda Williams. The tempo is also a mix of blues and roots thanks to Vikki’s harmonica playing. The song then stops to a crawl before changing gears into the faster tempo. It brings to mind the Rolling Stones circa “Midnight Rambler”, which has the same effect. Taking basic routine situations, the Waifs know what they sing about without padding the songs. If there’s one negative here, it might be the way the songs ends, with a rather low key fade. “Nothing New” is another ambling stroll down alt.country lanes. Again returning to a style that bleeds Lucinda crossed with Kasey Chambers. The vocals here are lush without being over-the-top. “We live through this day after day,” the sisters harmonize with the first trace of their accents showing.

cover art

The Waifs

Up All Night

(Jarrah)
US: 1 Apr 2003
UK: Available as import

“London Still” goes off on a tangent slightly; the back beat and overall tone is a departure for the band. Coming off melancholic, Cunningham’s guitar solo is its main selling point. The album’s selling point by far has to be the jazzy folk of “Lighthouse”, a tune that has you bobbing your head or at least snapping your fingers. There’s more soul in this number than some R ‘n’ B albums. “Flesh and Blood” is a sparse and murky effort that takes the tempo from “Lighthouse” and nearly puts it in reverse. There is also a nice jam quality to the middle portions. It’s a song that Chris Robinson should be placing on upcoming solo albums or projects. “Highway One” is entrenched in a roots-like Americana feel and groove. Artists like Shelby Lynn would nail a song like this, a mix of blues in both Vikki’s and Donna’s vocals.

Travel seems to be a major theme of this album, especially on “Since I’ve Been Around”. Featuring guitarist and guitarist Josh Cunningham, it’s a song recalling coming back to a place after months if not years away from your stomping grounds. The flow and pacing to this slow builder is flawless. “Fourth Floor” recalls the band’s last album Sink or Swim in terms of melody. The guitar playing is only surpassed the pretty vocals and harmonica playing. The track also shows how economical the album tends to be. Vocals and verses are placed closely together to make three minutes sound like four to five in some instances. The simplicity of “Rescue” is the hidden gem on the record, clocking at less than three minutes.

“Three Down” is a bit honky tonk and has the Waifs letting their hair down. “Three months on the road but I still got four more to go,” is the opening line before the tune moves into a Texan blues format. It contains a bit of Dylan’s narrative style as well. The title track begins with a dreary and brushing of drums, bringing to mind Neil Young circa “Harvest Moon”. Cunningham sings this tune as it creeps along to a fifties or sixties era country dirge. Overall it might seem as a turn from previous albums, but it’s a near perfect turn down another highway the Waifs will literally and figuratively travel along.

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