Released during the holiday season, the Welcome Wagon’s debut album, “Welcome to the Welcome Wagon,” is a cool change from the Christmas standards currently buzzing through stressful shopping centers. Reverend Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, with the production of pop visionary Sufjan Stevens, sing songs that sew together joyful gospel, gentle folk and Stevens’ grandiose pop. They bring new textures to the sentiments and stories that color pages of traditional hymn books.
Midwestern natives now living in Brooklyn, the Aiutos blend the adorable quirkiness of their new home with the quiet simplicity of their old one. In this way “Welcome to the Welcome Wagon” opens with the warmth and familiarity of a cozy, homemade quilt. A sparsely touched piano and Monique’s sweet, petite voice tranquilly open the album on the first few lines of “Up On a Mountain.” This simple fabrication expands on the second track, titled “Sold! To the Nice Rich Man.” Stevens’ sprawling landscape of tooting trumpets, joyful choirs and layered embellishments gives the simple song a surprising weight.
The dense patches of sound that Stevens encourages magnify the recognizable gospel message and style found in “But for You Who Fear My Name.” Pounding stomps and smacking claps join a mellow banjo and a melodic guitar as the backbone of beautiful, entwining vocal patterns. The involved, energetic choir adds to the emotive output of the song’s already clear meaning.
“You Made My Day” is perhaps the most playful, most theatrical song on the album. An immediate honky-tonk melody contrasts with the husband and wife’s synchronized voices, which remain as innocent and sparkling as ever. A humming harmonica and a tickled piano break up the country ruggedness with quieter, more delicate sensibilities.
After this surprising stab at a tweaked karaoke tempo, the Welcome Wagon conquers two surprising covers. Their version of “Half a Person” by the Smiths is sweetly melancholic with an acoustic guitar and the occasional chime of a glockenspiel. The Velvet Underground’s “Jesus” is full of expressive intensity as it is at once plainly sung by the Aiutos and belted out by a commanding choir with theatrical capabilities.
The album cover of “Welcome to the Welcome Wagon” plainly declares that the album’s purpose is “to comfort you.” A worn sweater or a heated corner seat may bring warmth this winter, but this album will supply comfort. The group vocals will encourage spontaneous singing, which will warm you from the inside out like drinking a large cup of cocoa—with marshmallows.