Monique Aiuto and her husband, Presbyterian pastor Vito Aiuto, tend to operate by their own clock. Since 2008’s Welcome To…, their arresting debut as The Welcome Wagon, produced by Sufjan Stevens on his own Asthmatic Kitty label, the pair have released
just two albums, suggesting that artistic inspiration can be a fickle companion.
Much of the impetus for their latest came from Monique’s decision to take up painting again after a decade of inactivity. The collage materials she used were taken from the collection of her late grandmother, Esther, whose readings from the Bible (home-recorded onto cassette during the ’90s) kept her company. As Vito’s tentative new songs gathered shape, with Monique’s accompanying artwork, it became apparent that home, family and faith were the three interlocking themes of what became Esther.
Simplicity is key to the Welcome Wagon sound. Vito’s guitar is gentle and politic, allowing for their voices – either trading leads or paired in intimate harmony – to carry the soft weight of these devotional songs. A winding acoustic pattern forms the basis of “Isaiah, California”, a missive to both their son and the importance of belonging. “In the morning / By the fire / We’re going home”, sings Monique in an almost confidential hush.
Occasional samples of Esther’s voice provide a kind of narrative thread, linking Vito’s originals to sacred hymnals like “Noble Tree” and “Bethlehem, A Noble City”, while “Nunc Dimittis” is a canticle from the Gospel of Luke in traditional Latin. With subtle embellishments of brass, strings and piano, Esther sometimes resembles the work of The Innocence Mission or Stevens himself: charming, understated and often very beautiful. And while a couple of these songs tend to merely drift by, the more muscular “Matthew 7:7” mirrors the unshakeable faith of its central message – essentially, seek and you will find.
Similarly, the sterling “Lebanon” addresses memory and transfiguration via shifting bursts of electric guitar and a resolute drum pulse, sounding not unlike Joy Zipper, another New York-based duo prone to going to ground.