Will Wakefield and the Congress Hotel
Seattle’s Will Wakefield definitely has a talent for taking sonic snapshots of the conflicted characters lurking inside his head. However, the singer/guitarist doesn’t let his heightened abilities get the best of him in his third album, Apt. 306, which offers some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in quite a while.
Seemingly inspired by the best lyrical storytelling to be found in the 1970s, Wakefield and the Congress Hotel often choose the high road without alienating the average listener. Often raucous, sometimes sublimely refined, Apt. 306 blurs the line between blues-rock and jazz-rock; it’s a supremely suitable companion for a quiet evening of cigarettes and scotch, or for a Saturday afternoon drive in search of misadventure.
Wakefield grew up in a rural prison town northeast of the Emerald City before heading to Boston to attend Berklee, which could partially account for the album’s mixed bag of influences. Another reason for the organic, yet sophisticated sound could be that the band’s talents and diverse interests probably match that of the frontman’s. The rhythm section (Mike Stewart, B; Ty Creighton, D) is top-notch, while never flashy, while Chuck Edwards’ lead guitar seems to be always in the right place, at the right time, with just the right tone. Nathan Spicer adds a shimmering layer of keyboards and organ to the cake, and the result is very, very tasty.
While the impossible-to-pin-down Congress Hotel can lean towards a meatier Toad The Wet Sprocket for one song, early Toto (“Hold The Line,” not “Africa”) the next, the 12-track CD’s two best songs draw instant comparisons to those kings of intelligent pop, Steely Dan. The late-night lament, “Katherine” (“It’s the last time you’ll order coffee at three a.m.”) could have been written for Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, and one would almost expect a cover of “Deacon Blues” or “FM” to follow the band’s wistful power ballad, “Frankie The Drifter.”
Besides sharing a cynical lyrical attitude and the uncanny ability to place the listener inside dimly lit diners and smoky bars, Wakefield’s vocal phrasing can occasionally be eerily similar to Fagen’s. While the former’s pipes sound nothing like the latter’s, Wakefield remains a gifted, distinctive singer whose voice is definitely the band’s sixth instrument.
With and without the Congress Hotel, Wakefield has prowled about Seattle for most of this century, receiving local airplay while honing his craft. This independently released, yet superbly produced disc has proved that his creations deserve to be heard elsewhere, everywhere.
Will Wakefield: willwakefield.com