April 2001

The Big Wu - Folktales
PhoenixRising 2008
Released: 2000

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]A musical dichotomy exists on The Big Wu’s Folktales. In one camp, there is a progressive ‘70s rock sound, replete with heavy Moog synthesizer, as illustrated by "Angie O’Plasty," "Oxygen," "Elani" and "Kensington Manor." Hereafter, this contingent shall be referred to as the Retro Wu Tribe. The other camp is characterized by a congenial melange of white ska, honky-tonk, folksy pop and rabble-rousing ragtime with a splash of Caribbean inspiration. This group we shall refer to as the Now Wu Tribe.

The Retro Wu and the Now Wu do their best to coexist in harmony on Folktales, but their striking differences make it a tricky proposition. Maybe that’s just due to my own biases. I find it difficult to accept such a wide range of styles in a single recording, and felt that the Retro Wu material detracted from the impact of the Now Wu Tribe’s musical world.

The Now Wu Tribe is a diverse group and one that I very much enjoyed spending time with. "Boxing Day" sidles along soothingly with a folksy, yet modern pop manner. "Two Person Chair" is a bouncy white ska tune -- light and whimsical, it lifts the spirit, and is possibly the best tune on the CD. "House of Wu" bounds along in ragtime until it gives way to an extended bridge with multiple tempo changes and hyper-excited, free-wheeling guitar licks. The finale is the enthusiastic, calypso-influenced "Shantytown," which ends with the band getting a hand with the chorus from an energetic group of fans, who sound as if they are feeling no pain.

If I had to give immunity to one tribe, it would be the Now Wu: It’s not that the musicianship and writing of the Retro Wu is bad, it’s just that Now Wu's music is more entertaining, fun and fresh and has a far greater chance of making a mark with listeners. Of course, we all know there is only one group -- that is, The Big Wu -- and that my use of two tribes is a shameless attempt to capitalize on current pop culture. Therefore, for producing such an all-around solid musical release with Folktales, I give a hearty big "Woo hoo!" to The Big Wu!