A long-term cancer survivor, Robert Wagner – frontman and chief songwriter and lyricist for 80’s-90’s seminal Pittsburgh rock band, The Little Wretches, continues to perform at coffeehouses and small clubs. A Master’s Degree holder, Wagner also counsels abused, neglected, traumatized and court-adjudicated youth. He is the co-founder of The Calliope Acoustic Open Stage, an event that has lasted 15+ years. Now that we have the mighty measure of the man, let’s look at the music.
Robert Wagner and the The Little Wretches built a strong cult-like fan-base in their prime while going through a few member changes and musical phases. The highly active collective flirted with national press, publicists and managers, before finally calling it quits. Until now. Assisted in its promotion by the MTS Management Group, “Undesirables And Anarchists” becomes the tenth album release by the freshly resurrected, The Little Wretches.
Times of love, times of discontent and all the intersections in-between these dichotomous times comes the narratives of The Little Wretches’ “Undesirables And Anarchists”, itself straddling musical boundaries – the idylls of folk, rock and punk, as well as the ominous darker chords of psychedelia. All throughout Robert Wagner remains songwriter of formidable smarts. This is one of those groups that didn’t clearly quite get all of the recognition that they deserved in their heyday.
The music on “Undesirables And Anarchists” is so accomplished, and so varied, that it sounds like a wonderful montage of a collection of past eras. The Little Wretches have an ear for dynamics that most modern bands have yet to expose, which enhances Robert Wagner’s songwriting no end. Ringing guitars, rolling basslines and steamrolling drums sit tightly under male-female vocal combinations that are simply exhilarating.
The blend of Robert Wagner and Rosa Colucci’s vocal performances are absolutely astonishing, and make a stunning impact on these songs. Their voices are storming, and integral to The Little Wretches overall aura. Each track is well formed and developed, and does what it’s set out to achieve. No hanging about, and never outstaying their welcome. Over and above the vocals and songwriting, most notable is the great guitar work across the entire album.
It’s almost superfluous to handpick standout tracks, as in their own way, they all are. If only for the simple reason that the organic sounds of the guitars, bass and drums, together with the raw and vibrant production is so far removed from the today’s usual, sterile digital mixes that produce pristine but flat, ascetic soundscapes.
The Little Wretches kick the album off with the jangling guitar-driven crunch of “Silence (Has Made a Liar out of Me)”, and just build the momentum from there onward. Forced to choose my favorites, I’d have to go with the steady American groove of “(It Was) Almost Nightfall”; the rock n’ roll drive of “Don’t You Ever Mention My Name”; the mellifluous soar of “Morning”; the pertinent “Who is America”, and the guitar crunch of “The Ballad of Johnny Blowtorch”.
I’m not sure when any of the songs on this album were written and recorded, but lyrically they surely can belong anywhere on history’s musical timeline. They reflect emotions, experiences and visions that are timeless and endlessly relatable. “Undesirables And Anarchists” sounds like an album from a band at the very top of their game. In fact, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this release as The Little Wretches “Best of” compilation album…or is it?