Wooden Dinosaur makes the kind of simple, stripped-down music that leaves you feeling nostalgic and longing for more. It's folksy, rambling and sweet, with dark, quirky lyrics. The band is made up of three people, including frontman Michael Roberts, also of David Wax Museum. The group rotates through a mix of less common sounds, including the melodica and a traditional Mongolian stringed instrument called the morin khuur.
Wooden Dinosaur's song "Ghost of Geeshie" is full of unusual and often morose analogies and imagery. Though the lyrics are a bit elusive, I initially concluded that the track laments the loss of ideals fed to us during childhood. It does do something to capture that awful part of growing up when you realize that your parents aren't perfect, the way history was taught to you in grade school is totally bogus, and you just feel lied to and let down.
It turns out, according to Roberts, that "the song is a tribute of sorts to one of the most amazing yet unknown blues singers of the early 20th century, Geeshie Wiley."
Wiley was a singer and guitarist who made just three records, all of which came out in 1930 and 1931. Her best known song, "Last Kind Word Blues," has a haunting sound that's channeled by Wooden Dinosaur, particularly in the group's weary, distressing lyrics.
In a soft and slightly sorrowful tone, Roberts sings, "Well, into the sea I dove / A naked swimmer in a field of glass / Sunk my head beneath the icy cold / And hung the flags of my country at half mast / For the fear inside our chest / Was a sickness of the American heart / I found things that I could love much less / I decided it was time to start."
These heavy words are followed by the chorus, "Hanging heads will drop like flies / To the ground with a face full of white."
Though it would be easy to feel a bit deflated amid all that, the intricate guitar work and affectionate vocals and harmonies make Wooden Dinosaur an endearing, understanding companion. It's like the friend you look to for empathy rather than to be uplifted — a wonderfully sad and beautiful quality.