Addison Agen and her brother, Korrigan, spent so much time between their home in Ft. Wayne, IN, and their grandparents’ home in Gilman, WI, that they consider Gilman home too. When Addison stormed through the TV talent show called The Voice, her grandfather became one of her biggest cheerleaders. When the show ended, Addison was the first runner-up and one TV critic proclaimed that “the best singer did not win this season.” Clearly, Addison’s devotees were dedicated.
As a thank you to her extended family and second-home-city, the Gilman and Jump River Lions Club put together a concert in the Gilman High School gymnasium. Ken Klahn and the Lions got a splendid opening act, Wise Jennings—a husband and wife duo now living near Lake Geneva, WI. Melissa Weishaar was a 1994 graduate of Gilman High School and was thrilled to play before a crowd she knew so well. Addison’s mother was also a graduate of Gilman High from 1989. Last Saturday night, July 7, it all came together.
When Wise Jennings took the stage at 7 p.m., the place may not have been packed but it was extremely well-attended. Melissa played drums, tambourine, harmonica and vocals. Husband Jeff Weishaar played guitars and sang, as well.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a huge fan of Americana/Country music. Okay, I’m not even a small fan. Wise Jennings refer to themselves as ALT-Americana/Roots Rock and, if there is a difference, then it is all the difference. Jeff was an extremely skilled and talented guitarist. Melissa sat the minimalist drum kit and played harmonica at the same time. The harmonica was attached to the microphone. Think of Bob Dylan or Neil Young with their harmonicas on a neck-strap. After the first or second number, I leaned over to Nicole and said, "Oh, my God. These guys are GOOD!" Melissa was propulsive in her drumming—not just keeping time, she moved things forward, neither rushing nor lagging even once. She was good. At one point, she kept time with the stick in her left hand and she played tambourine in her left, hitting the crash cymbal with the tambourine. And when she hit the crash cymbal, it CRASHED. All the while, poor neglected Jeff is simply playing perfect guitar. And when Jeff and Melissa sang, they were pitch perfect. So very complementary. Not only was Jeff working the guitar, he kept a bass line alive with bass pedals like those on an organ. Jeff describes it like this: "It is basically a 17-key organ pedal that controls a Microkorg synthesizer. It rounds out the low end but, unless people really look, they don't realize what they are hearing."
Nicole and I both liked the stage set-up of Wise Jennings. They sat facing each other—Melissa on the drum throne and Jeff on the guitar stool. Comfortable with each other, reassuring each other, and focusing entirely on the music. If it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am. As I told Melissa, I’m a bit of a Jazz snob. Actually, I’m a terrible Jazz snob but they hooked me from the opening number and I never looked back. Were they Jazzy? No. They were straight-ahead, meaningful, fun music. Go to wisejennings.com and buy their new CD. Seriously. When they finished their set, the went to the front of the stage, turned the lights on, and got a photo of themselves with Melissa’s hometown crowd behind them. These are nice people.
Comments on Facebook:
"I never expected to be taken with Americana music like yours. Even more, you guys are nice people and I like your style."
"Great original tunes! Every show is a great time of storytelling, music, and usually some drinks involved....I you haven't seen them yet, you're missing out."
"Wonderful music. They put everything they have in their music and I love listening to them."
"It's like Frank Zappa doing Americana."
"A superb duo! Incredibly talented! Can wait to hear them again."
"Great roots feel, simple and homegrown and yet powerful."
"Nirvana meets Patsy Cline"
"JENNINGS HOLLER" ALBUM CRITIQUE BY DIVIDE AND CONQUER
The Wisconsin duo known as Wise Jennings, or if you prefer Mr. and Mrs. Weishaar, return again with their first full length album Jennings Holler following up their 2017 EP release, The Year Mama Tried. For those just learning about this Lake Geneva couple, Melissa Weishaar plays the drums and harmonica while Jeff has three guitars he plays at various times in the album: the hollow body electric, the acoustic and the foot pedal bass. I would describe their sound as Americana and roots with a little blues, country and rockabilly on the side. After I listened to Jennings Holler, there was no question in my mind that this duo’s vocal harmonies were made for each other.
“History of Music” kicks off the collection. It’s a ditty that bounces and dances like the jitterbug which is matched up with hot, rockabilly guitar and drums. “Oh Poor Me Blues” is a gritty number that tells it like it is – sure, life is hard, but sometimes you have to overcome your fears by “rolling up your sleeves and getting your ass out of bed.” On “Nothing to Life” there is a guitar sound in the beginning that reminded me of the Cowboy Junkie’s landmark first album, The Trinity Sessions.The song kicks up a faster country beat, alongside Jeff and Melissa’s incredible vocal harmonies – good stuff.
The title track to the album is a fast rambling tune with fast talking lyrics. This one had some fun lyrics and harder edged guitar riffs along with a country-styled beat. “Greatest Fake” slows things down with a tender piano melody and tells a tale of a woman who puts on a good face, but deep down behind the curtain, her life is hurting. “Headliner” features a great, low down shuffling beat with plenty of harmonica that would get any crowd on the dance floor.
“Penitentiary Mountain” is a soulful number with some trademarks worthy of the southern gospel and blues sound. Another stellar vocal performance on harmonies that gave me the chills, along with an equally soulful guitar and harmonica rounds out the song well. A more pop-country feel can be heard on “Addiction of Self” mixed with some contemporary folk rock style as well. The last song “Mosh Pit” kicks it up hard and loud with a jerky fast beat and lyrics that made me recall my younger years. It’s a fun song with a darker, edgier feel that ends the album on a strong note.
Jennings Holler is a fabulous collection of songs that Wise Jennings should have no trouble converting the masses to west of the Mason-Dixon line.