(photo by Samuel Dixon)
When North Carolina experimental folk stalwarts Megafaun announced the support for their very very brief stint of shows would be drummer Joe Westerlund's side project Grandma Sparrow few could possible fathom what that meant. Westerlund, always a radical, charming force behind Megafaun has channeled that very special energy into a project as innovative as innovative can be. While expecting Westerlund to no doubt revel in his folk roots, Grandma Sparrow exists on an entirely different labeless plane and is all the better for it.
A sort of absurdist folk opera, Westerlund's Grandma Sparrow is the host of a demented children's show not unlike Peewee's Playhouse if all the characters were more or less played by the same character a la Eddie Murphy. Set in the mythical realm of Piddletractor, Westerlund's vision is a world with its own rules - rules that Grandma Sparrow reveal to you through a process akin to throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of the pool and expecting them to swim. And yet, Westerlund has just enough faith that you'll pick it all up...eventually. Donning a series of whimsical hats, wigs, and distinctive personality traits, Westerlund seeks out and succeeds in creating a performance unlike any other. All the more refusing to let the audience be anonymous witnesses and drawing each and every person that Grandma Sparrow and faithful company could engage into their ridiculously genius little world.
The thing that keeps Westerlund's twisted tapestry from devolving into mere shock value has to do not only with the total sincerity and balls to the wall commitment of Westerlund and his co-conspirators but the fact that there is very much a highly realized musical component to Grandma Sparrow. More so than your standard pop act - Westerlund presentation is rife with compositional strengths; of repurposed theme and variations. Grandma Sparrow is wonderfully brilliant, and riotously hilarious without being totally baseless; a musical project that can delight on multiple levels without having to explain itself. It's rare to get fun music that is so methodical in its construction, so absolutely sincere in its delivery and well, so ridiculously insane. Westerlund explores the farthest reaches of his imagination while binding it to learned and practiced musical talent and artistic thought and the result is triumph on all fronts. A trip down a musical rabbithole that you won't quite want to go back up again.
Grandma Sparrow's debut full length Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra is out May 20th on Matthew E. White's Spacebomb Records. Pre-order it now and you'll be glad you did.
Diamonds & Tapestries (2014) Excerpts from Carson Efird Westerlund on Vimeo.