Athens’ storied musical collective TaxiCab Verses will re-release its 2016 album, Is What You Make It, October 20 on Strolling Bones Records. The 10-track set is a project of Jim Wilson and Kofi Atentenben and the Warriors, who met in Accra, Ghana in 2008, and quickly grew into an international effort featuring over 20 collaborators including Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers. Recorded partially in Ghana and later finished at Flicker Theatre & Bar in downtown Athens, Is What You Make It has since been regarded as one of the most unique and awe-inspiring relics of Athens music history; combining traditional Ghanaian instrumentation––djembe, African congos, xylophone, and various bells, rattles and shakers––with a classic Americana lineup of electric guitar, bass, cello, drums, violin, and saxophone. Ahead of its anticipated reissue on the New West Records imprint next week, TaxiCab Verses has shared its take on the traditional Ghanaian song, “Ajenjua,” out today on all digital streaming platforms (listen and share here).
A veteran musician, songwriter, and linchpin of the Athens-area music community, Jim Wilson first made the trek to Accra, Ghana in 2008 in pursuit of a relationship. Despite its eventual dissolution, Wilson’s fascination with West African music and culture fueled two additional back-to-back visits. On his daily excursions, he documented the comically ambiguous sayings he would find on the streets—phrases like “Be Wise,” or “No Jesus No Life,” which adorned the backs of taxicabs. Wilson quickly befriended a bevy of local musicians who welcomed his curiosity and graciously allowed him to record soundbites of their get togethers. In time, Wilson devised the idea to form a makeshift band with his Ghanaian compatriots.
“He always had a deep interest in the music of West Africa and although his trip was initially to do field recordings of local musicians there, it soon morphed into an all-encompassing project with Jim taking phrases he saw on the backs of the various taxicabs he rode in, then writing them down and turning them into the basis of a series of songs,” recalls Patterson Hood. “The results became the TaxiCab Verses.”
Upon his return to Athens, Wilson introduced the budding project to a number of trusted cohorts. Over several days, they set up shop at the beloved Flicker Theatre & Bar, where nearly 20 people––including Brad Morgan (Drive-By Truckers), John Fernandes (Elephant Six), Matt “Pistol” Stoessel (Faye Webster), and Strolling Bones label mate Jacob Morris––got mic’d up and began to play.
Hood adds, “It all somehow became a beautiful symphony of beats and grooves, creating a bed for Jim’s insightful and elusive lyrics and expressions; all captured so perfectly by Drew Vandenberg, who has since gone on to become one of the most respected and in-demand producers/engineers around.”
When all was said and done, TaxiCab Verses had blossomed into a stunning and colorful mosaic unlike anything else. Is What You Make It, the group’s singular studio effort, not only memorializes the unique amalgam of circumstances which led to the unlikely collaboration; it also bridges the gap between two very different, yet distinctly beautiful worlds. An exuberant collection of danceable numbers and emotive instrumental arrangements, Is What You Make It is a one of a kind heirloom that transcends time and place.
Reflecting on the project, Hood concludes, “So now I’m getting to revisit the finished album all of these years later, and, other than a little sadness at not being able to be there all along, I am so filled with love and pride for what Jim, Drew and all of those amazing musicians from two continents have created. Kudos to George Fontaine and the Strolling Bones Records folks for spotlighting this amazing chapter of Athens music history (and beyond) and finally making this record available for the whole world to hear.”
Is What You Make It from TaxiCab Verses will be available on DSP and vinyl for the first time ever on October 20, 2023. Visit strollingbonesrecords.com/taxi-cab-verses to learn more.
Is What You Make It Track List
Zero to Hero
Step by Step
Be Wise, Think Twice
Tug of War
First Things First (Obama Obama)