Will Wakefield and the Congress Hotel

By Steve Stav

Garage rock, grunge rock, indie rock, folk-rock. The streets of Seattle have famously produced a lot of variations on a theme.

What about the theme itself? What about fiery guitar riffs, big drums and lyrics you can sing and shout along to? What about pure rock 'n' roll?

Seattle's Will Wakefield And The Congress Hotel politely raise their collective hands and answer with their new, self-titled CD. With this second studio disc, Wakefield and his band of hotshots look beyond 2012 — while simultaneously embracing an era when "well produced" didn't mean "over-produced," when chops outweighed looks, when a band called Heart became the Jet City's rock ambassadors.

The 10-track album reflects a group and songwriter/frontman who've been re-focused after the critical success of their previous CD, Apt. 306. The distinctively edgy, cynical, yet often ultimately hopeful lyrical approach that Ink19.com compared to Donald Fagen's signature remains in spades. Moreover, the music and the band creating it are more electrified than ever. The result? Thought provoking "smart rock" that gets blood pumping and rumps shaking.

The all-meat, no-filler CD, which Wakefield chose to produce and engineer himself, also re-introduces the term "album oriented rock" in a very literal fashion.

"I feel like it's our 'Appetite For Destruction' record," says Berklee-educated Wakefield with a laugh. "It's not a concept album, but on the other hand, the songs share a common ground in that they stand on their own feet. I didn't intend to write them as stand-alone singles, but I think every song has its own life to it."

Will Wakefield And The Congress Hotel comes out of the gate with guitars ablaze; the tachometer-blowing "Dept. of Correction" and seatbelt-tightening "190 Proof" will have listeners forgetting to breathe. Fuzzy keys accentuate one of Wakefield's slinkiest, meanest creations, "Your First Mistake." Riffing echoes of Thin Lizzy mark the arena sing-along, "The Stars Don't Shine," and Wakefield's remarkable — and remarkably intense — onstage charisma again seeps and spurts through the mic with the simply evil "What's Your Medicine."

Towards the end of the wild ride, Wakefield and the band finally shift back down to first gear with a gorgeous track that proved to be the impetus for the new album's direction.

"'Rendezvous' was actually the first song I'd written for the album, and I was tempted to go towards Billy Joel or early Springsteen with it — something that was essentially a 'solo ballad,''' Wakefield recalls. "I decided to go in the other direction... instead of writing solo material and having the band 'electrify it,' as I'd done previously on Apt. 306, I chose to create a roadmap for the band that was not based around a guy playing acoustic guitar. Each musicians part has a purpose to support the song’s intent as opposed to improvising around a chord progression."

Indeed, Will Wakefield And The Congress Hotel wound up, in part, being an acknowledgment of a group's family-like chemistry after many nights spent on stage. Bassist Mike Stewart and guitarist Chuck Edwards (Wakefield's cousin) joined up while Wakefield was working on his first solo album ten years ago; drummer Ty Creighton, recruited via a newspaper ad, coincidentally knew some of Wakefield's high school friends when he was an undergrad at Washington State University — which helped cement their camaraderie as band-mates.

Family and familiarity was certainly a factor in recently adding ace guitarist Dave Brewer (Lost Dogma, The Bradbury Press) — Wakefield has known him for years.

Apart from the nods to the Congress Hotel's bonds to one another, and to the town they love— hence the cover art – ultimately the new album is an homage to rock 'n' roll itself, and to the fans.

After all, Wakefield — whose diverse inspirations include Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, and Guns N’ Roses, — is above all, a rock fan himself.

"As I worked on the album, I often asked myself, 'What kind of songs do I like to sing along to? What sort of songs do I want to sing?," he explains. "I wanted to revive the 'big guitar' excitement, the catchy melodies of the music I grew up with.
It should be done well, and bring some hope and enjoyment to your life - that's what's important, and that's really the band's goal."

Will Wakefield And The Congress Hotel will be performing in support of their new CD throughout the year.

Track listing:
1. Dept. of Correction
2. 190 Proof
3. Your First Mistake
4. Stars Don't Shine
5. The Fire Went Out
6. What's Your Medicine
7. The Anchor
8. Rendezvous
9. A House
10. The Congress Hotel