The Welcome Wagon
Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing
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Between 2001-2008, in stolen moments after impromptu dinners and before the baby woke up, Vito and Monique Aiuto were assembling a lovely patch-work of sweetly angular hymns, quirky covers and practical pop songs. Recorded, produced and given sonic shape by their friend, Sufjan Stevens, their labors were finally released as a record in December 2008. The result, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was a celebration of faith in God, joy in friendship and an earnest embrace of the homespun process by which a community of friends can collaborate to make something beautiful for God. Reviewers and fans agreed upon the record’s virtues. Pitchfork praised the “slew of truly great songs” that were “endearing and sweet (despite the copious Biblical blood shed therein), and, most important, as addictive as anything.” Esquire called it a “welcome treat”, and the UK’s Uncut, choosing it as a featured debut, said it was a “winsome folk brew” that “manages to make 17th-century psalmist austerity sound fun.”
As is usually the case (especially when a recording spans the better part of a decade!) the recording process for Welcome to the Welcome Wagon produced more music than could fit, figuratively or literally, on the record. As Vito and Monique were pondering what to do with some of their more well-loved recordings which had not seen the light of day, they learned of an organization called Freeset, a fair-trade business in India that helps to liberate and empower women escaping the sex trade in the largest red-light district in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. Their desire to push some of their songs out of the nest and in to the world, and their desire to support the brave women of Freeset has been married together in an EP of outtakes and demos called, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, a digital release from Asthmatic Kitty.
First a little more about Freeset: Freeset is located in Sonagacchi, the largest sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women “stand in line” selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Freeset opened its doors there in 2001 in an effort to provide freedom for these women by offering a business alternative, as skilled craftswomen able to make fair-trade and eco-friendly bags and t-shirts. By providing women with the opportunity to start new lives, regain dignity in their communities, and begin a journey towards healing and wholeness, Freeset seeks to break the cycle of poverty and exploitation for these women once and for all.
The women are paid around twice the going rate for an equivalent job elsewhere and as part of their employment package have health insurance and a pension plan. All profits from Freeset in Kolkata benefit the women (salary, health insurance and retirement plan) and are used to grow the business. This means more women can be employed and experience freedom. And 100% of all proceeds from the sale of the Welcome Wagon’s EP, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing will go to Freeset.
And about that EP… Of course the value of the cause that will benefit from the sale of the record would make it worth your hard-earned dollars alone. But the content, too, is exceptional, showcasing the various virtues of the wide-ranging sounds and incarnations of the Welcome Wagon.
Things begin with the raucous “O Christ Our Hope”, a full-throated choir-driven affair showcasing a peculiar convergence of triumphant horns, rock drums drenched in reverb and sloppy, Pavement-esque guitars bringing up the rear. 7th century Latin hymnody (not to mention Soren Kierkegaard) never sounded so fun.
The 2nd track is an intimate, early demo of the Welcome to the Welcome Wagon opener, “Up on a Mountain.” Recorded around a kitchen table with Monique and Vito singing in unison, and Vito and Sufjan walking acoustic guitars alongside, this take (by comparison with the album version) not only draws back the curtain on the rich additions that Stevens brought to the record, but also gives a glimpse in to the simple power of the Aiutos, sounding here much as they do when they perform live as an intimate duo.
“I Am Not Skilled” takes us back to church and a playful proclamation that while we may not always understand the Lord, we undoubtedly need his mercy and love. Here are the horns and the choir again, as well as the considerable skills of long-time friends and bandmates, Jay Foote (double bass) and Alex Foote (electric guitar).
And we end at the beginning with the very first song Vito ever wrote, and the first song the Welcome Wagon ever recoded, a simple restructuring of that old Puritan chestnut, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Put down in just a few takes in the living room several apartments ago, and cobbled together from a tentatively strummed guitar, duct-taped banjo and a Casio keyboard, the song is proof that there is not only power in the blood, but also in the earnest offering of people playing music simply and truly just for the joy of doing it.