Ken Francis Wenzel
According to Webster, a troubadour is “one of a class of lyric poets and poet-musicians often of knightly rank” or the current vernacular “a singer especially of folk songs”. The tradition of folk singers dates back to the 12th century when traveling minstrels roamed the European countryside telling stories of heroes and kings through music. These traveling musicians were revered often holding a royal title. The modern tradition of the folk singer is not too much removed from those early practitioners. Ken Francis Wenzel is a modern troubadour in almost every sense of the word. Ken was born in the Midwest and was classically trained as a saxophonist. After college, he spent the next ten years traveling the world playing in bands orchestras and became an in-demand session player. Finally in 2007, in order to branch out and reach a larger audience, he took up the acoustic guitar and reinvented himself and his music.
These days, Ken is more widely known as a roots rock indie artist based in the DC area. His latest album “…Beneath Potomac Skies” was released in the early part of 2014 and the album is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps it has to do with his classical training or the fact that he paid his dues for ten years but “…Beneath Potomac Skies” now ranks as one of my top albums of 2014. The tunes are easy on the ears any wander effortlessly through verse and chorus and back again. His backing band Cross Kentucky is populated with traditional Americana instruments and the pedal steel work throughout the album is complimentary and not overbearing. The album is tinged with jazzy accompaniments uncharacteristic of music in this genre and creates a delightful take on the Americana movement sweeping the nation.
Wenzel writes of the many places he has been, lost loves and how we all tend to romanticize our pasts. His vocal character reminds me of Harry Chapin but in a slightly higher register. The album represents only his second release, the first with a full backing band and he says in the liner notes, “[it’s] a musical journey through the last fifteen-or-so years of my life. This record isn’t an ending, it’s the start of the next chapter”. The album is at times hopeful, ‘Potomac Skies’, ‘Landing Lights’, ‘(Let’s See) What Happens On The Highway’; at times mournful, ‘Leave The Light On’ and ‘ Unbroken’ and all the while a celebration of what has been and what is to come. Ken Francis Wenzel doesn’t run away from his past but instead uses it as a basis for his future. The production and arrangements are top drawer and hopefully open a lot of doors for this highly talented singer songwriter and modern troubadour.