Me, I don’t know people.
But I know people who know people.
And no one I’ve talked to who’s involved in the Milwaukee music scene has a bad word to say about Mark Waldoch. They all have the same words -- gracious, totally genuine, phenomenally talented, true to his own muse, all the right kinds of crazy. You hear those qualities in the music, too. Whether he’s playing a solo gig at the back of the Cactus Club or rocking a memorable Milwaukee Boat Line set with the Celebrated Workingman last summer, Waldoch radiates conviction, the honest joy of out-and-out performance which so many lesser artists can only try their hardest to fake. In the three years since the Celebrated Workingman’s “Herald the Dickens,” Milwaukee’s sound has evolved from a numbing alt-country uniformity into something bluesier, classic-rockier, punkier. These trends passed Waldoch right by. He remains a genre unto himself, the patron saint of Milwaukee indie rock at its most flamboyantly heartfelt and idiosyncratic.
In other words, no one ever will accuse Waldoch of subtlety, or restraint. On stage and on record, his dial is locked at 11, and the difference between “Herald the Dickens” and September’s “Content Content” is that the Celebrated Workingman, as a whole band, are cranked all the way up too. They sound fuller, warmer, like someone rolled back the garage door during practice so the music could breathe, expand, reverberate.
And if any singer can fill up a bigger musical canvass, it’s Waldoch. The way he belts “Impossible Interiors” makes the whole song sound like one epic power pop chorus, each sustained syllable acting as its own bridge to the next frenzied cry for a happy, beautiful, fulfilling life -- to be “content,” accent on the second syllable (at least that’s how I read the album title). We’re so inundated with hip detachment and above-it-all cool that listening to Celebrated Workingman can feel a bit embarrassing at first. This band has no filter. So much passion, so much enthusiasm, so little concern for moderating Waldoch’s operatic vocals or the clamoring guitars.
At first blush, I thought “Content Content” was some sort of a breakup album, and I still do, kind of. Loves comes together and falls apart over the course of the record, breaking Waldoch’s heart on “Hung to Dry” and inspiring lovely, longing sighs on piano ballad “A Lover’s Waltz.” But even when Waldoch senses an affair’s impending doom on “Falling Piano” or turns “If love is still the answer, honey can you please repeat the question” into a whirling Van Morrison trance on “Some Mistakes are Worth Repeating,” he sounds too elated to let bitterness or disappointment touch him, like putting himself totally on the line and roaring songs that others would meekly whisper grants him invincibility. Being that out there, that present in every moment, frees Waldoch to enjoy the messy bits that bog the rest of us down, like the way “Celebrate Alone” tumbles around a lover’s quarrel, jumbling up the tears and the apologies and the hollow vindication you get from being right, whatever that means.
Even the painful bits of “Content Content” are triumphs of courageous living and forgiveness, the thrill of feeling your heart keep time to all life’s ups and downs and lead you towards whatever comes next.
Oh, and it’s all fucking FREE. Right here.
Music doesn’t get more generous than this.
Joey Tayler is the lead writer on Rocksposure.com. Based out of Milwaukee, WI, he is always looking for a new show to see. If there is something you think he should be listening to, send him an email at JoeyT@Rocksposure.com