Ken Francis Wenzel
Official URL: http://kenwenzelmusic.com/
Ken Francis Wenzel is a brand new artist on the indie scene. His debut record, ‘…Beneath Potomac Skies’ is a twelve track collection of epic proportions. It’s his first full-length, full-band record inspired by his life in Washington D.C. If listeners head on over to his website, they can check out some detailed song-by-song liner notes as well. Those provide some excellent context to the record, and if anything, they prove that each song has its place in the set. They’re all meaningful stories from his life.
First thing’s first: I’m curious as to whether or not Wenzel hopped into a Delorean, hit 88 miles an hour, and went back to the mid 70s to abduct Don Henley and company to record his album. His album is eerily similar to an Eagles record, both musically, lyrically, and vocally. His vocal and stylistic resemblance to the pinnacle country-rock group is uncanny. I mean that as a high compliment as well; the Eagles are fantastic. In any case, it’s a rootsy sound chock full of steel guitar and Americana influence.
It’s no surprise ‘Potomac Skies’ opens up the album. It’s a wonderful opener that introduces you to Wenzel’s sound in a perfect fashion. After you’ve heard that opening track, you have a pretty good idea of where he’s going. ‘Landing Lights’ feels a bit like an extension of the first song. ‘Screaming In Stereo,’ however, is such a fruitful effort of reverberated acoustic guitar and sparse steel guitar.
A frequent problem with first-efforts of upcoming artists is that they aren’t entirely sure what to cut and what to keep. In honesty, this album could have been eight or nine tracks and would have been a lot sharper and tighter. That’s not necessarily a critique, just an observation that a couple of these songs sound either too similar or somewhat less-impassioned. ‘Leave The Light On,’ for instance, is a track the album could absolutely do without. Then you collide with the romping ‘Caving In’ and the effort feels invested again. This song is one of the best: it dabbles in some new acoustic spaces and aligns with an Arlo Guthrie track or the like.
‘Come Read My Heart’ is another interesting tune, one that dips itself into some more bluegrassy stylings. That brings me to an important point in this review: If anything, ‘…Beneath Potomac Skies’ is a love letter to Washington D.C’s music scene. It’s a versatile scene to say the least, probably most notably for punk and of course, go-go. Both of those D.C genre-landmarks are so, so far from this effort of Wenzel’s. That’s a beautiful thing; there’s clearly a bit of everything in that town.
‘Unbroken’ closes it out with a nice little duet, albeit one that’s way too long and meanders a bit. It does house Wenzel’s most beautiful saxophone solo, however – he’s an excellent soloist. For a first full effort, this album is rewarding and unique. It does stutter and wander at times, and could have been chopped around and been much tighter, but that’s something that comes with time in the studio. Eventually, you figure out what to cut – not every song is a winner. Not everyone of these is, either. There are a couple wins throughout that show Wenzel’s potential. That’s something to build on.