Review: Wolfgang Schaefer – Wolfgang Schaefer (2010)

Amber Valentine is the fearless editor-in-chief for Radio Free Chicago with a unique Midwestern warmth for music. Based in Detroit, Michigan, Amber’s coverage is borderless be it Iowa barns or Chicago venues bathed in city glow. Mezzic is thrilled to have such an enthusiastic voice lend her thoughts. Welcome Miss Valentine!

I, Mezzic readers, am a child of modern times. I text, I tweet, I facebook, and I’m never without an iPod in my pocket. That being said, I’m still taken aback when surreal things happen to me because of social networking. Recently, through a mutual friend, I discovered a folk musician named Wolfgang Schaefer. Knowing my penchant for adoring sad, bearded men with acoustic guitars, my friend figured Schaefer was right up my alley.

No sooner than I received this recommendation did I listen to the songs available on Schaefer’s myspace and sure enough, my pal was right. Good call, Mike Roeder! A few days later, I was stressed out to the point of tears and I decided to put on Schaefer’s self titled album. Not half way through the first track, “Mirror and the Lamp”, did I find my dour mood slipping away from me, melted off of my bones by the soothing warmth of Schaefer’s storytelling lyrics and smooth, whiskey soaked voice. Of course, to me, a child of the interwebs, this was twitter-worthy news. “I was totally freaking out over my workload this weekend then I put in @HeyWolfgang‘s album and guess what? Stress gone! Lovely!” Later, Hey Wolfgang himself twittered back at me. “I actually sold the record to Pfizer. It’s outnumbering Paxil scripts.” That might be a big of an exaggeration as, to my knowledge, Schaefer has yet to receive a hefty sum from any drug company but it’s an incredibly apt comparison. If I were a drugologist (That’s what those are called, right?), I’d probably look into starting a case study where I make sadsacks and nervous wrecks everywhere take a listen to Wolfgang Schaefer to see whether the case of Amber Valentine was an isolated incident or not. We could have a goldmine on our hands!

Interestingly enough, however, Wolfgang Schaefer isn’t happy music. It’s many things (Calming, cathartic, beautiful, and affecting, to name a few) but happy isn’t exactly one of them. But that’s not a criticism at all. The Milwaukee native, who’s backed by his brother Benjamin on percussion, specializes is the understated simplicity of near-perfect folk songs that have made the likes of Bon Iver and Iron & Wine so gosh darned famous over recent years. This, for the most part, works wonders for Schaefer, although a bit of grit would be welcome on the album’s first two tracks, “Mirror and the Lamp” and “Love in Loisaida”, the first of which is the disc’s weakest track and even as that, it’s still a very good song, no small feat for any artist.

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“This Time Is”, the disc’s third track, is where Schaefer really starts to shine. The dark overtones of raw emotion that were masked with smooth vocals and lilting acoustic guitar early on in the album are prevalent here to great effect. The seductive dirge of “This Time Is” wafts and curls around you before it dissipates like cigarette smoke. When Schaefer sings “This time it works; this time it hurts”, the pain Schaefer feels is audibly evident. It gets under your skin until you find yourself hurting right alongside Schaefer. The ache he sings about isn’t only his ache anymore, it’s yours as well. At nearly five minutes long, “This Time Is” doesn’t seem long enough. Thankfully, the albums two closing tracks are just as strong as “This Time Is”.

“Broken Hearts and Billy Clubs” tells a story with detailed lyrics that are reminiscent of the vivid pictures Josh Ritter paints with his words. Here, Schaefer envisions a self-confident and complex female with fears and intricacies that make his heroine seem real, like a girl you loved once and can’t let go, or maybe even a little bit like yourself.

Schaefer, like many great folk musicians before him, is at his best when there’s turmoil in his life. He has an uncanny knack for channeling whatever he’s feeling into a beautiful catharsis, with gentle, well-practiced guitar, seasoned with harmonica and percussion, and anchored by Schaefer’s seductive and attractive voice. It must be something in the water in Wisconsin, as the state churns out amazing folk act after amazing folk act. I feel as if expecting great things from Schaefer in the forthcoming years is not a bad expectation to have. From the accessibility of the opening tracks to the euphonious chorus of the album’s last track, “The End Of Something”, Schaefer has put out an album that shows great talent and greater promise. The only problem? It’s too short! I need at least fifty minutes of this man in my life, and the sooner, the better.

Wolfgang Schaefer

Rating: 7.5/10
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