Willodean isn't a mainstream moniker. It’s an anachronistic name, one for a band that chronicles longing, loneliness, and lost loves. Willodean's self-titled debut album exposes someone as afraid of finding love as losing it. Dan Barrett’s gravelly baritone has a toughness suited to -- maybe rooted in -- the vulnerability of the lyrics. Producer Eric Holden’s upright bass resonates with sturdy, near-ancient melodies. Guitarist/pianist Randy Wooten’s lyrics evoke a dreamy world of misgiving and missed chances.
Yet the band discovers a playfulness in the songs, a confounding curveball that makes the album fun.
A decade ago Holden and Wooten formed The Bloody Lovelies in Los Angeles then started Cheap Lullaby Records in nearby Venice. But after signing Gus Black, Joan As Policewoman, and The Bellrays, the Bloody Lovelies went on hold.
In the meantime, Holden played with artists from Shakira, to Josh Groban, Nina Hagen and The BoDeans. He also produced The Bastards of Belleville, an LA gypsy jazz band.
Wooten worked on projects with Mark Plati (David Bowie, The Cure), and Shawn Pelton (P!nk, Lyle Lovett), and toured Japan, playing punk versions of Sinatra songs.
When it came time to collaborate again, Wooten was living in New York and had just gone through a breakup. “I moved back to L.A. and didn’t know which way was up. So I started writing," he said.
One song, "Pieces," was pivotal. "The vibe drew me in. Everything clicked and we just started recording,” Holden said.
The album contrasts a choir of synthesizers against a haunting pedal steel guitar, soaring mandolin, and lo-fi piano. It’s Americana, melded with clever '60s pop, lonesome country ballads, and Tom Waits-esque mad-scientist rock.
On “Everyone,” the verse quietly raises the question of our humanity, and gracefully answers it in the chorus. “Good Idea” lambasts the soulless world of corporate America. “Glass Bottom Boat” ponders detachment as a way of coping with modern life. And “Now That You’re Gone” mourns love lost through movies, songs, and cigarettes.
Wooten recalls he had an epiphany during the project. Willodean needed a raspier, bluesier voice. Enter Barrett, Holden's college buddy, who had made a career playing and singing blues-based songs. The first time Wooten heard Barrett's voice, he fired himself on the spot as lead singer.
“The songs needed Dan's energy and soul,” Wooten said. “Now, I can't imagine anyone else singing them.”