After delivering a pretty-close-to perfect third album in 2011’s “Needle, Feather, and a Rope,” I figured there was no way San Francisco-based indie folk collective Blind Willies could top themselves. But damn if they don’t come tantalizingly close on long-awaited follow-up platter “Every Day Is Judgment Day,” a ridiculously good gathering of tunes the band has dedicated to the departed Pete Seeger, Maurice Sendak, Lou Reed and Polish social worker Irena Sendler.
The band says the 15 songs that comprise “Every Day Is Judgment Day” are “about freedom and whatever the opposite of freedom is, within ourselves and in our relationships with others.” Whatever the inspiration, there are so many keepers — “Cremo Tango,” “Dig a Hole,” “Potential Bag,” “Break Free,” “I Need a Woman,” “The Possible World,” “Carry All You Can” — you can’t help but fall for this band all over again.
-Jeffrey Sisk, Pittsburgh In Tune
No one should expect any light fare from California songwriter Alexei Wajchman. In the 2011 album[Needle, Feather, and a Rope] from his band, Blind Willies, he drew dark portraits of prostitutes, pimps, and the darkness found on the streets in San Francisco. “Every Day Is Judgment Day” is at times even darker. The songs about freedom are in their widest sense both combative and political.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this way for the gas.” An apparently crude verse. How can one write a tango over the horrors of Auschwitz? Nevertheless, Alexei Wajchman used the title of a memoir he read from an Auschwitz survivor to inspire him. And it allows him inspiration from the horrors of a place of mass murder: “Cremo Tango” is a very disturbing dark song, one in which the horrors are made vividly palpable; through the familiar tango rhythms it is made even more horrendous. Also the next song on the album is among those that leave the listener completely speechless: In “42 Jews” he counts, without commentary, the ethnic/religious groups of people that throughout history have been the victims of mass murder: Jews and Palestinians, Armenians, Roma and African slaves—at the end, “and Jesus too.” Very slowly the simple rhythms accompanying verse build upwards loading the music through his guitar riffs, a tightly high wired tension that his furious solo contorts and the E-Guitar triggers for release.
An album about freedom? There is no optimistic nationalist patriotism to hear on this album. The songs of Blind Willies would rather look where the political and personal environment of freedom is still so elusive or lost completely and what dangers transpire when that happens.
Musically, the musicians over the years have grown significantly, abundantly evolving throughout: Folk melodies, Blues influences, and Americana in the broadest sense, to angry rock fills the wide spectrum of sound with their individual expertise. However, the music is just a vehicle for their bitter exactitude which is never used as a pure mechanical distancing device for the unbelievably sharp and precise observations which are employed by this extremely gifted songwriter. Only the last song, “Big City,” inspired by Wajchman’s years of working with children, relieves the dark shadowed atmosphere this album provides for the listener, revealing the survival of innocence in an otherwise threatening world.
In these last years I have very rarely encountered work with such dynamic political texts and music that exquisitely blend, and completely stun the listener. Blind Willies will not conquer the charts; there is only soullessness and banal sound to be found on the charts. For deep thinking soulful music listeners “Everyday Is Judgment Day” has just landed on the list of the most impressive albums of the year.
"The songs get inside your head and knock on your heart." Heaven Magazine, NL
"Every Day Is Judgment Day is well recommended for all its uniquenesses, a combination of mind theater, rock, folk prog, and agitprop paying tribute to elder sounds by wrenching them out of their matrixes 'n tossing 'em on the aesthetic grill. What emerges is both beautiful and daunting, a smiling mystery theater lurching with blind truthtelling and Humanist intent." Mark S. Tucker, FAME
"A vibrant album full of hope and reflection." Uber Rock
"This sparkling album provokes thought as well as pleasure." Folk Radio UK
"With their driven music Blind Willies join the authentic rebels who use their songs as weapons." Rootstime, BE
"Glory be, they sound like a mutant of The Holy Modal Rounders and Violent Femmes, which is just dandy." fROOTS, UK
"Beautifully crafted songs dealing with difficult themes with deft lyricism . . . an outstanding album." Fatea Magazine, UK
"Their approach is not for the faint of heart. Their blend of rock, blues, and Americana belie the messages contained inside. The opening track, “Cremo Tango” is a jaunty tale of World War II German death camps." David Bowling, CASHBOX
There's enough gypsy flair to give these songs that slimy carny feel, though as the album descends into madness the gospel elements begin to take over.
And so what begins as a trip into blindness becomes a tale of redemption. Of sorts. The resolution isn't half-hearted, but it's more resignation than acclamation. Life will wear on you.
All that may sound drearily deep, but the music is so searing and enthralling that the themes of good, evil, life and death are hardly overwhelming. Rather, such grandiose routes of thought seem like the perfect accompaniment.
An utterly ambitious album, and one that follows through with a massive emotional impact. This'll put you through the wringer, but in the best of ways.
-Jon Worley, Aiding & Abetting
Led by Alexei Wajchman, Blind Willies specializes in the kind of earthy, playful Americana that bands like Mumford and Sons aspire to.
In a state of sheer panic, I found out that the Danny Cohen and Blind Willies show started at 7 p.m. It was 6:30 and I was in desperate need of a shower and still had bed head from my disco nap. Buckling up my pants I ran unshowered down Geary Street to get my girlfriend and grab a cab to get to the Mission District. I thought the show started at 9-ish. Doesn't everything start after 10 p.m. in San Francisco? Not this show. Which was fantastic . . . Blind Willies are excellent. Their latest CD, Needle, Feather and a Rope, is on heavy rotation in my apartment.
-Tony DuShane, SF Chronicle
Blind Willies remind us an awfully lot of Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, Kurt Vonnegut the writer. Maybe it's the intellegence embedded into each of Alexei's lyrics, perhaps it's the eclectic personalities of the members of the band. Or maybe it's the sarcastic, humorous tone.
Like The Band? Like Jack White? Then you’ll love Needle, Feather and a Rope, a majestic alt-countrified horn-driven take on the universe and everything in it . . . the new album is a shot in the arm, with the primordial sounds of Leadbelly and Lomax filtered through New Orleans blues, Randy Newman pop, Rolling Stones rock and roll, grandiose indiefolk, and just about every other genre that has followed.
-Boyhowdy, Cover Lay Down
San Francisco's Blind Willies is the kind of band whose music sharply divides listeners' opinions almost instantly. While some might take that as a knock, I consider it a testament to the intensity and tenacity with which they explore their own boundaries. A heady mix of americana, blues, folk, and rock 'n' roll, their latest album Needle, Feather, and a Rope showcases frontman Alexei Wajchman's incredible range of emotional nuance.
-Laurel Kathleen, Best New Bands
I knew nothing about Northern California indie folk collective Blind Willies when “Needle, Feather, and a Rope” came across my desk several weeks ago. After about a dozen spins of these phenomenal 14 songs, the Alexei Wajchman-fronted outfit has moved to the top of my list of pleasant surprises. Blind Willies lure you right in with the vaudeville-like strains of opener “One Dime Down,” and continue to mesmerize with keepers “Lord Thought He’d Make a Man,” “Good and Faithful Servant,” “Jezebel,” “I Made a Mistake,” “Last Drop of Midnight,” “Notes for a Cowardly Lion,” personal favorite “Sisters of Perpetual Curiosity” and “Don’t Let the Devil Steal Your Joy.” If you’re looking to spend an hour of unadulterated musical bliss, “Needle, Feather, and a Rope” will do the trick.
-Jeffrey Sisk, In Tune, The Daily News, McKeesport, PA
With a wide range of influences including Dylan, The Pogues, Zappa, Leonard Cohen and many soul and blues legends, Blind Willies offer up a promising mix of folk, blues, Americana and rock 'n' roll, all recorded in retro analogue folks, just like they did in the old days. The songs and lyrics especially are influenced by Wajchman's upbringing, stories of life on the streets of San Francisco, pimps and whores, gamblers and dealers, the general day to day life outside his window.
-Ben Hughes, Uber Rock, UK
Imagine the White Stripes driven by the fevered folk of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, and you might get some idea of where the Blind Willies are coming from. . .It's this sound, of traditional music being seized by musicians with new, fiercely held ideas of their own, that makes this album so invigorating.
-Keith Laidlaw, KQED