If you’ve heard anything by Sufjan Stevens, then this music from his childhood friend, Vito Aiuto and his wife Monique, will not surprise you. Using the tones and textures that Stevens has perfected, The Welcome Wagon takes on a more blue grass and Americana sound. As a Presbyterian pastor, the music and lyrics attempt to make an escape from what is labeled “Contemporary Christian Music.”
The Welcome Wagon’s first album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon, was produced by Sufjan Stevens, and was released at the end of 2008. Their 2012 release, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, is a collection of original songs (and a few covers, including David Crowder’s “Remedy”), taking up more obscure and difficult parts of the Bible and Christianity and singing them with an indie-folk/Americana sound.
Take the first track, “I’m Not Fine,”
I'm not fine
And you're not fine
And we're not fine together (dear)
I told you I was sorry
Are you sure that it’s enough?
The Christian community can often fall into this “fine” theology. That we are fine as we are, not broken people in need of a savior, and not a band-aid Jesus either.
On “My God, My God, Parts 1 & 2,” they set the last words of Christ to gentle sorrowful music. While The Welcome Wagon sing toward hope, they don’t arrive there without a good hard look at the pain and suffering in the world, and the lamentable human condition that the fall has brought about.
In the city of stubborn skeptics, New York City, there is a borough known for a vibrant music scene called Brooklyn. In Brooklyn there is a neighborhood known for being the centre of hipsterdom, a trendy lifestyle not associated with conservatism, called Williamsburg. In Williamsburg there is a fairly traditional three-year-old church plant called Resurrection Presbyterian Church. The pastor of this modest establishment, along with his choir-teaching wife, fronts a refreshingly Christian band called The Welcome Wagon.
Born in Tecumseh, Michigan, Vito and Monique Aiuto seem an unlikely married pair to lead a successful urban freak folk outfit. In fact they had little to no aspiration to play their delicate folk outside of their comfortable Greenpoint apartment. In fact, Vito purchased a guitar simply to play hymns with his family on their down time. Vito maintains that he “already has a job” and isn’t about to break out into the music industry just yet. In fact, it was at the urging of their friend Sufjan Stevens that they decided to record their debut album, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon.
Vito and Monique have no preoccupations about singing obviously Christian lyrics in their Brooklyn habitat. They proudly sing praises, modeling Jesus’ sermon on the mount in songs such as “But for You Who Fear My Name” and “Unless the Lord the House Shall Build,” while doing covers of more contemporary, seemingly un-saintly songs such as the Smiths’ “Half a Person” and the Velvet Underground’s “Jesus.”
Produced and arranged by Sufjan Stevens, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon has a sensitive folk sensibility utilizing light arrangements of guitar picking and sweeping vocal harmonies. Welcome also contains Sufjan at his most epic with brass and string sections or tympani dancing lightly atop the guitar melodies. When Paste Magazine asked Sufjan if he felt uneasy being connected to the project after years of trying to distance himself from being labeled a “Christian artist,” he responded, “Oh, no! Not at all. I think it’s beautiful music.”
The Welcome Wagon and Sufjan Stevens have this to say: that one does not have to be a believer or otherwise to appreciate beautiful music. Believers have a lot to learn from the vibrant music scene on the streets of Brooklyn.