Monday, November 24, 2014

Ken Wenzel - Beneath Potomac Skies

I frequently become myopic by allowing myself to focus on new music created in East Nashville because (1) it's often great and (2) much of it is available for live listening nearby.

Yet, I believe I do a pretty good job of pulling up and keeping my eyes on the horizon for new music from all over the place. In 2014, one place from which I've gleaned a good bit of new music is our nation's capital: Washington DC.

Ken Wenzel (web | Twitter) is part of that contingent and recently released his first, full-length album ...Beneath Potomac Skies

Like many Federal government processes in DC, Wenzel has had a bit of convoluted trek to end up in the District as his current home.

He grew up a Midwestern kid from Illinois playing saxophone from middle through high school. He then went to Las Vegas to major in jazz studies. The next decade took him all over the place as a hired-gun sax player. After being typecast a bit, he broke his own mold so to speak. He took up guitar, expanded his professional music offerings and relo'd to the beltway.

As someone who wanted to break from the stereotype of what a saxophonist is expected to sound like, he accomplished that goal with a lot of diversity in his compositions on the album. A few songs have a pop feel. Others with fiddle and pedal steel guitar fit nicely within the Americana genre. Another one or two could just as easily been recorded on 16th Avenue in Nashville rather than in a DC 'burb. Across the 12 tracks, the album is an impressive debut - a debut by someone who has been performing professionally for about 15 years!

A few highlights from the album include...

Red Letter Days - Wenzel recaps what it's like to attempt a relationship reconciliation after months away playing gigs and tending bar - in this case aboard a cruise ship.

To watch you turn and walk away
It's like watching sunlight fade away
We'll be together one day
After all this ends
We can live the red letter days again

(Let's See) What Happens on the Highway - Road Trip! As recorded, this song has almost a contemporary country feel to it with a nice blend of fiddle, bass, drums and guitar.

Fire it up and drop the top
Point in west and never stop
The whole wide world is waiting girl
Let's see it our way 
No more pressure, no more work
Forget the boss man, he's a jerk
We'll leave all that stuff behind us in the driveway
There's magic in the backwoods and the byways
Let's see what happens on the highway

The Wisdom of Flowers - Perhaps my favorite track of the album. The previous song, Caving In, is a quick-paced one with contrasting references to a picture-perfect sunlit day, some morning regrets of the night before, and an acceptance of the 'new norm' as a DC resident. As it ends, The Wisdom of Flowers then begins with a completely different sound and dark vibe. Wenzel's newer-found guitar picking skills opens the track followed soon by the haunting sounds of pedal steel guitar and rhythmic brushes on a snare.

There's no need to argue now
There's no need to talk about our faults
And there's no need to talk about the vines outside my window choking off
Choking off the daylight
Like I'm slowly choking on my own resolve

Come Read My Heart - This uptempo song opens with some great dobro and banjo work. Wenzel's lyrics are based on the book Ten Sisters: A True Story. The book (and the song) tells the remarkable story of 10 sisters separated as kids in 1942 but who found one another decades later.

The album closes with a song titled Unbroken. Appropriately, Wenzel returns to his roots with an extended saxophone solo - though within a musical arrangement likely different than he played with others over a 10-year span. But that's just a generalization on my part - didn't mean to stereotype anyone there.



  1. As one of the Ten Sisters, I can tell you that "Come Read My Heart" summarized our story in his lyrics, "We can all forgive, but we never can forget."

    But it isn't just that song that pulls me in to ...Beneath Potomac Skies. The music is memorable, the lyrics paint vivid pictures, and the arrangements provide such variety in style and rhythm. There is no song that I skip to get to another, better song. They are all rock solid and entertaining,

    1. Thanks for reading and your comment! Great, concise addition to my post. I've now got your book on my 'wish list'.