Magic Wand destroys me, pure and simple. It blew me to pieces, put me back together again, and then tucked me into bed with a warm mug of cocoa just in time for the first track to start. With its languid strumming and oddly relaxed ambience, album lead-in “Everybody” has a subtle bossa nova vibe. And over this unhurried bed of acoustic guitar, Little Wings’ heart and soul Kyle Field quietly mumbles and hums an unraveling stream of words that never stumble, double back or repeat. It’s so understated that you don’t realize how amazing a performance it really is. It’s like the Dylan hype, but for real.
This sort of elliptical narrative wordplay lends the record an adventurously jazzy feel. Field’s lyrics are as easy and unforced as conversation, not constricted by the bare bones song structures but running free. The subtlety of lines like “it looked like the whale was swimming/the Whale Mountain I mean/Was swimming” bring to mind that anecdote about the NYC cabbie berating Donald Fagen and Walter Becker about the seemingly mundane line “Is there gas in the car?/Yes there’s gas in the car.” But guess what, that cabbie was full of shit because that lyric ruled, and so does every word of “Whale Mountain.” Field’s honeyed warm voice follows a simple piano line taking in an explanation of why a mountain is named after a whale before segueing into a tale of a band that never quite made it, no matter how hard they tried to sell out. You’re gorgeous, man.
“I Am With You” alternates between lurching codeine slurs and choruses of sweet, sweet falsetto harmonies. “Sing Wide” expands the sonic palette to include electric guitar, electronics and crashing drum flourishes; and goddamn if Field doesn’t start sounding like Joni Mitchell, stalking the core of the song, undulating within and around the random starts and stops. Magic Wand is filled with wonderful dustbowl country atmospherics; deeper and more rambling than that vast expanse of forest on the other side of the farmhouse where I spent my summers. I just can’t get over Field’s voice — the phrasing and control and moods expressed here are like a more controlled Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake. Words are savored and twisted and tasted before being moved here or there like tiny drops of mercury — never could quite get your hands on it.
“So What” is built around a shuffling backbeat and clear, ringing piano notes with Field’s voice ebbing and flowing. Images and mental notes to self are stacked up effortlessly higher and higher until he slurs, “so I record a song and someone says so what is sounds like shit,” and suddenly all the alchemy seems so wonderfully human and transparent. The steel drums, smooth and jazzy electric guitar figures and brushed drums of “Laugh Now” bolster that Steely Dan comparison I made earlier, and the lyrical flow becomes so smooth that it almost begins to approximate improvisatory hip hop or like a scat. Little Wings is totally at the peak of their powers on this track. And as if to bear that lil’ “hip hop” slip out, the next track, “White Sky,” almost sounds like a more chilled-out version of LL Cool J’s Unplugged set, with Fields hovering and quavering above it all, like Diamanda or Buckley or even some Tom Yorke. “Uncle Kyle Says” is a joyous childhood romp that reminds me of Jad Fair at his most exuberant; the song rollicks along like the best sing-a-longs do about the joys of touring, with lyrics like “We look up, we look down, now we’re finally coming around/When Uncle Kyle took us from town to town/Making music sharing sound” (or that line right after it about the bathroom) even the most hardened won’t be able to keep from cracking a smile.
“Hanta Yo Three” is an unbearably beautiful jaunt and skip with some mandolin added to the palette. I was in a bad mood until I heard this song yesterday. “Random Lee” is so perfectly formed and frozen in time that it brings to mind classic songwriter moments like Cat Stevens and Joan Baez and even Stevie Stills. Good lord, it’s like an AOR hymn. Listen to this one 57 times. I will. “Darkened Car” is a fitting closer, love song as hushed incantation: “in a darkened car/you are only who you say you are.” Whoah!
Eclectic be the game he plays.
K Records: www.krecs.com