By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Talking to Welcome Wagon is like talking to Welcome Wagon's biggest fans. The Brooklyn duo—Reverend Vito Aiuto and his wife, Monique—refer to their sacred, ad hoc folk group as if it were a present left on their doorstep: "We're not quite bystanders, but it feels like we built a house and we were two of the people who worked on it," explains Vito. Monique describes everything—friends, recordings, even reviews—as "gifts." When I ask them to name their favorite songs on their debut, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (Asthmatic Kitty), they run into trouble. " 'American Legion' always makes me cry," Monique decides. Vito picks "Up on a Mountain," but when I point out that the plaintive, pretty song about Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is one of the few songs he wrote on an album packed with covers, he recants: "I take that back, then. My favorite song is 'Half a Person.' And I like the Smiths' version better."
That kind of modesty permeates Welcome Wagon's story. Vito and Monique, a writer and an artist originally from Tecumseh, Michigan (population: 8,574), had a simple reason for learning to play music: "I had that corny idea of the dad getting out the guitar after dinner," says Vito. "Embarrassing, I know." They were in their twenties, but wanted to have kids soon. Everyone encouraged them to play more—one musician friend would accompany them to church, come over for dinner, and ask to hear their songs afterward. ("It was quite a gift he gave us," notes Monique). Others from Resurrection Williamsburg—a Presbyterian church, just east of the Marcy J/M/Z stop, where Vito is senior pastor—helped fill out their band. Their friend Sufjan Stevens asked Vito to play with him, and later arranged and produced Welcome to the Welcome Wagon. Finally, Vito and Monique welcomed their son, Isaiah, eight years after they began teaching themselves music—now that's planned parenthood.
Their album isn't like most contemporary worship music; it doesn't glorify a personal relationship with Christ. Instead, Welcome Wagon talks about the communal aspects of Christianity: friends, family, church. There are a few originals, but also several traditional gospel songs, plus covers ranging from the Danielson Famile to the Velvet Underground. Stevens's arrangements dress up their living-room-sized folk songs with Sufjan-sized flourishes of brass, banjo, and strings. Modesty prevails, though: Their CD-release party will be their first show at the Resurrection's home base; cover is $10, unless you bring some canned food for charity. Consider it a gift.
Welcome Wagon perform at St. Paul's Lutheran Church December 9