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Music | Reverence for God permeates Welcome Wagon debut

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

Half a century ago Flannery O'Connor asked how Christian writers can communicate the idea that man needs a redeemer to a culture that believes no such redemption is needed. Her advice was to shock: "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large startling figures."

On first listen it seems that the folk-gospel group The Welcome Wagon has chosen to avoid shock altogether on its debut release, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, in favor of a bucolic sound and elegiac lyrics that display a deep reverence for God. But songs such as "Deep Were His Wounds, and Red" and "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" are about blood and sacrifice. They are songs of unabashed love for Christ.

The Welcome Wagon is Brooklyn pastor Thomas Vito Aiuto, his wife Monique, and a rotating lineup of musicians. Aiuto's day job clearly shapes the group's direction and intent: A good portion of the songs are reworked traditional spirituals. Producer Sufjan Stevens gives the proceedings a homespun orchestrated vibe, with loose and often elaborate arrangements for flutes, banjos, guitars, French horns, glockenspiels, trumpets, trombones, ukuleles, electric guitars, and acoustic guitars-sometimes played all at once.

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Yet Stevens keeps a tasteful focus on the Aiutos and their message: In a time when ironic posturing is the norm, it's shocking to sing (without winks or nods) about the healing powers of the blood of a man who died.

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