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Album Review: Strangest Congregations by Andrew Wiscombe

Andrew has seen the ugliness of some of life’s worst moments. It colors his songs of beauty with an appreciative radiance, and it colors his songs of pain with a brutal truthfulness.

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By Doug Lane

Andrew Wiscombe is by far the best songwriter I know. Period. Certainly, he is one of the best in Utah or in the vast community of military veteran songwriters. I have rarely known an artist so adept at making me laugh, cry, and think, and Strangest Congregations is a true testament to his incredible songwriting prowess. The album was produced with Adam Rossi at AR Audio in San Francisco with a stellar team of musicians in partnership with Operation Encore. Operation Encore is a veteran organization for songwriters and performers.

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Every article I have ever read about Wiscombe mentions his military service as a sniper in the Army. For many, that description will call to mind a certain stereotypical image reminiscent of Rambo, Tom Berenger, or some overly-muscled, cocky bro’s bro. And nothing could be further from reality. Wiscombe has the gentleness, kindness, humility, and compassion of one who knows his capabilities and his nature and has resolved to be a good man. And in his humility, he would probably cringe at the description “good man.” 

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The album begins with “Like a River,” a rerecording of a tune originally released on the album Operation Encore: Monuments as “The River, The Lark, and The Pine.” The song is a classic troubadour tale of the road, and while I prefer the upbeat enthusiasm of the original version, this subtler, slower, more subdued version really highlights Wiscombe’s lyrical abilities. His voice is immediately strange and inviting – not something you would expect a Nashville executive to jump on, but reminiscent of a Dylan/Prine hybrid (but in tune). Captivating from the first syllable. 

Wiscombe’s passion for middle America and the working class really shines through in tunes like “Indiana” and “Working Man’s Mile.” And his thoughtful examination of race and culture on “Jesus Martinez” compels us to question our own imaginings of Jesus as well as how we treat those around us. 

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But without a doubt, my favorite tune is “White Mache.” I remember the first time I heard this song performed live, at an Operation Encore event. Upon hearing the line “But they’ve never been to Baghdad, never heard those mothers’ cries,” I wept openly. This song is the soul-wrenching confession of a man who has done and seen unspeakable things in the name of a flag, and wrestles deeply in his conscience with the rightness of their cause. The song begins with “I came home soiled from a dirty war; thought I knew just what I fought it for” and never relents. This song, though not easy, is melodically beautiful and masterfully performed. But the lyrics and the story they relate are a gut-punch. I hope every supporter of the military and veteran communities will listen to this song as it so graphically describes the inner demons and doubts that plague many who came home from war.

Andrew has seen the ugliness of some of life’s worst moments. It colors his songs of beauty with an appreciative radiance, and it colors his songs of pain with a brutal truthfulness. Strangest Congregations is a must-listen for any Americana or folk fan.

Make sure to follow Andrew Wicombe on Instagram and listen to “White Mâché” below.

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