With the release of Folktales, its second studio effort on Phoenix Rising, THE BIG WU has delivered 10 songs in almost as many Wu-flavored styles with the same transporting force and impeccable musical interaction that placed their recent Phoenix Presents album, Live at the Fitzgerald Theatre 4.21.00, among Entertainment Weekly's all-time Top 10 Contemporary Jam Band Albums. Folktales effortlessly moves from the straight-ahead rock of "Angie O'Plasty," to the country stomp of "Minnesota Moon" and the modern classic-pop balladry of "Boxing Day," before surveying white-boy ska on "Two Person Chair" and simple funk and neo-heavy metal on the seemlessly paired "Oxygen" and "Elani." Thanks to the vintage mini Moog synthesizers that were once in the arsenals of Rush and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, "Kensington Manor," about a legendary Wu Family residence, has an easy, progressive rock sensibility. "House of Wu" is a "bitchgrass" ode to a mystical Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis, and "S.O.S." has a broad middle where the music flows like the waves in a turbulent sea while the lyrics scream: "The New World may be Heaven in the End."
Folktales appropriately ends with "Shantytown," a lilting Caribbean excursion that bounces to a close with the unified debut of the newly minted Shantytown Chorus -- some 500 BIG WU fans chanting in unison, under the baton of drummer Terry VanDeWalker, at a party the band threw in a warehouse studio during the recording sessions. That party wound up becoming the first-ever Big Wu Family Reunion, now a Memorial Day Weekend outdoor festival tradition held this year over a three days at a Wisconsin campground. The Shantytown Chorus more than tripled in number when it gathered for a refrain of that "Shantytown" singalong this summer during a BIG WU concert at the Minnesota Zoo. In a typical nod to its fans, every original "Chorus" member from the recording session was thanked in the Folktales album credits.
"A lot of these songs reflect the time we've spent with this Family over the last couple of years," says guitarist Jason Fladager. "That's why the theme of this album is really about fun. And that will probably be the overriding theme of most BIG WU music to come."
Fun as it may be, Folktales also reveals an exceptional songwriting prowess that far outdistances most bands on the alternative groove scene. The songs on Folktales are as tight as it can possibly get for a band that embraces improvisation. Recorded at a Minneapolis factory on classic equipment that gives the album an undeniably organic sound, Folktales displays THE BIG WU's consistent knack for hooks and choruses throughout their stylistic melange.
"The one thing that really sparkles about THE BIG WU is that we write damn good songs," says Fladager. "Our writing might appear to be all over the place, but the ultimate sound is all BIG WU."
Minnesota's alternative groove culture has unquestionably transferred its affections to THE BIG WU. The unequivocal Family affair is exploding throughout the Midwest and continues to blossom across the nation, as the band tours relentlessly from coast to coast, with live shows that differ every night as the band reinvents its songs from one stage to the next.
It's no wonder people travel such long distances to see THE BIG WU. Family members have described BIG WU shows as "a musical catharsis in every way you can imagine" that "makes you feel like you have something in common with everyone in the room." As Chicago's Mark "Zebbo" Szczepkowski attests, the communication between the band and the audience is a mutual experience of complete musical nutrition: "No matter where I'm seeing them, I always am filled with joy. You just can't have a bad time at a BIG WU show."
THE BIG WU stands at the musical entrance to the American Beauty generation with its extraordinary range of feeling and expression intact. Fending off the music industry's pressure to conform to cute, stylish, butt-wiggling imagery, the members of THE BIG WU have fearlessly chosen to exist beyond the mainstream, embracing their passion for playing music on their own terms, and their hard-won ability to just be themselves.
"Wu" in Chinese means "the uncarved block" or "the absence of nothing." From the Tao of Pooh, the "Wu-Wei" is a state of being.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Angie O'Plasty
2. minnesota moon
3. boxing day
5. two person chair
7. kensington manor
8. house of Wu