The very first moment of Ola Podrida’s Belly of the Lion is perfect. Really. Without a count, the bass drops on the downbeat and a warm bodied Telecaster sings; for a moment, it seems like this little band (David Wingo with Matthew Frank) from Austin might have found that elusive junction where Wille Nelson and Motown intersect. There isn’t a sound of affected fetishism in that first passage, not a hint of second-guessing, and it is was a warm enough welcome to keep me eager for a record poised to suffer from the oversaturation of a contemporary sound and the Austin scene.
That opening jam, The Closest We Will Ever Be, eventually docks at a place a little more Sebadoh and a little less Smokey Robinson but remains a satisfying serving none-the-less. David Wingo’s voice is straightforward and well used through out, bowing to the melodic miracle and allowing his bite-sized cinemas shape the record. Sonically, the record shines with an impressive homemade crackle (with the exception of a few drum tracks, Mr. Wingo plays every note); the care put into the post-recording is brought into focus by a dynamic dialogue that vacillates in equal degrees between sparse opening statements and plush climaxes that squeeze juice from both The Lion King soundtrack and Band of Horses.
And it isn’t a surprise that Mr. Wingo first established himself as a composer for the elegantly understated films of David Gordon Green (George Washington, All The Real Girls). The two artists share more than just a Southern infliction and both frame their best work by a powerful but obscured aural foundation. Not unlike the opening sequence to George Washington, in which a rural South Carolina room tone hisses, buzzes, and mixes with a nearly inaudible string selection (most likely provided by Mr. Wingo), Belly of the Lion gives its mini-movies a postproduction wash through feedback, airy harmonies, tape hiss etc… A faint brittle guitar provides the sonic floor for the slow burning Monday Morning and swelling feedback soaks and coats the late record Roomful of Sparrows.
The record suffers most when it loses the sense of play established in those opening moments and Mr. Wingo pushes his voice and mood into Bon Iver-esque turf; its kind of nice that this isn’t the saddest bastard music and its boring when it panders to that place. Contextualized in this style, the regularly engaging lyrics (Mr. Wingo has a great habit of providing his songs character(s) with names) become flatter, more run of the mill somehow. Still, even the dull moments float towards rewarding payoffs and, at a few minutes shy of the forty-minute mark, Belly of the Lion is concise and listenable. This isn’t a record of challenges either, a fact that both supports the album with sweetness and sonic briskness but handicaps the desire for returned listening and critical assessment.
The bottom line: Why the hell not? Ola Podrida will only ripen over time, especially as the identities of David Wingo the cinematic composer mingle with David Wingo the atmospheric songwriter.
Earlier Ola Podrida with mp3 HERE. Don’t miss the poignant video from Zellner Brothers for This Old World below.
Words by Benham Jones