Alicia Wiley, short and simple, could blow a hurricane back out to sea. That’s the kind of chops she got. She played tasty keys and sang like an angel, seducing with her trademark sardonic melodies. It being the release gig for her new CD, Halfway Home, she anchored the set with material from that album. And killed. In cold blood. When she was recording the disc, Alicia advised me it would depart from her characteristic melancholy, getting off more on the sweetly sentimental tip. Well, don’t tell her I said so, but, sweet sentiment and the whole nine, Wiley’s stark sensibility remains evident on Halfway Home, angst heartrending enough to make Sylvia Plath seem optimistic.
This is good a time as any to throw in a conflict-of-interest disclaimer. I’ve been an Alicia Wiley fanatic since I first caught her, years ago, opening for Willie Walker & The Butanes at the Cabooze. And I rave about her every chance I get. When I heard her waxing sultry as summer heat on “Halfway Home” off Pachyderm’s So Large We Ran Out Room compilation, I had to ask (actually, I begged) whether she’d sing with me in the studio. I’m still pinching myself that she agreed. Further, for the Varsity gig, Alicia had Yohannes Tona on hand, killing bass so bad he need to be arrested for murder. As with Wiley, I begged and he too agreed to record with me. Let it not be said top-flight Twin Cities musicians have no charity in their hearts.
It was one hell of a night. Varsity Theater management should conduct a clinic in customer service and half the Twin Cities clubs should be made to attend on pain of losing their license to serve the public. I found out about the Zmo Trio and got to see Alicia Wiley. Like I said, too bad some experiences can’t be stowed away for a rainy day.
Dwight Hobbes (February 2009)