A perfect – wait, make that ideal – live music experience, for me, includes a few personal preferences such as a venue close to my home that offers seating, reasonably priced drinks and maybe a menu of snacks that won’t break the bank when added to the price of the ticket. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but that is how I roll. Of course, it’s a given that the band on the bill has great songs and is able to reasonably replicate its recorded sound in a live forum while also improvising and “riffing” freely enough to add a personal vibe to the performance. On a recent Saturday night in the East Village, that perfect storm of a concert experience happened at Drom Lounge on Avenue A when psychedelic folk rock band, The Wyld Olde Souls, celebrated the release of its new CD, Ensoulment. It was an evening I won’t soon forget.
Ten years in the making, Ensoulment includes fourteen songs (13 originals and one cover) that prove the long wait for this album was well worth it. Often compared to acts like Fairport Convention, Joan Baez and Donovan, The Wyld Olde Souls are perhaps NYC’s best-kept secret. Fronted by lead vocalist/songwriter and guitarist Ivy Vale, The Wyld Olde Souls includes Vale’s husband Rick Reil (vocals/guitar/sitar), Kristin Pinell Reil (vocals/guitar/flute) – the former both members of the legendary Grip Weeds — vocalist Melissa Davis and tabla player Naren Budhakar, who is such a perfect addition to the band for his ability to really capture the middle eastern spirituality inherent in its music. The band’s lyrics are often romantic and whimsical, offering a welcome respite from the angst and anger in much of today’s pop music, while the lush, layered instrumentation on the album – which includes flute, orchestral strings and mellotron – solidifies The Wyld Olde Souls as a band that expertly takes the act of homage into the realm of a truly unique, original sound.
At Drom, the band opened the show with “Give it to You,” the second track off Ensoulment and proceeded to hold its audience in thrall for the remainder of the tight, 13 song set. Although the band performed in an almost “unplugged” setting (save for Pinell and Reil’s guitars) every song sounded amazing. In addition to Vale’s rich, resonant vocals, Davis’s mellifluous backing vocals create a transcendent aural experience against the Souls’ spot on instrumentation (Rick Reil and Kristin Pinell also handle lead vocals on select songs). The set included many songs from Ensoulment including “Take Me There,” “Undertow” and “Maybe” but also featured a little known George Harrison song, the chant “Gopala Krishna,” which the Souls also performed at George’s Birthday Tribute show (featuring headliner Roberta Flack) this past winter.
Band members joked with each other and the capacity audience while telling stories about their music and influences between songs, which kept the crowd engaged and anticipating what might come next. A few of my favorites included “Love Song” and “Wyld Maiden” as well as the instrumental “Love in Transition” and an Improvised Raga that showcased Budhakar’s expert tabla playing. As the performance came to a close with “Where There is Light” and “Sun God” (a track from the band’s debut CD) I felt very fortunate to have been part of such a fun and entertaining live gig. Ensoulment is already in the running for a top spot in my year-end Top Ten CDs of 2011, and I recommend you pick up a copy either via CD Baby or as an MP3 Download at Amazon.com. The band does not perform live very often but you can like their page on FaceBook to be kept in the loop about future live dates.