Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
The concept of this week’s review started out life back in 2010 from very humble beginnings as a short film that never got off the ground. Fast forward ten years, and like NASA’s aptly named rover Perseverance, that ambition and script concept switched out from silver screen to audio drama.
‘Wandering With The Dead’ is the brainchild of Cody Signore, an ambitious filmmaker from Boston, USA. The spark and idea, is a menacing western horror thriller set within the lawless Wild West of the 1870s. A cowboy setting with a much darker edge than often portrayed within mainstream visual entertainment.
For me, this audio drama is kinda like what the TV series Westworld would be like if it were given an adult 18 rating! It is also worth pointing out that this podcast admirably covers some challenging themes, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. So if you are a fan of podcasts that include the following – happiness, unicorns, candyfloss, and rainbows; WWTD might not be your jam. Hopefully, if you are on my page you are blessed with an open mind and will continue in that vein.
Like most indie podcasters, WWTD is written, directed, edited, mixed, and mastered, all by its creative engine Cody Signore. Oh and if there weren’t already enough plates spinning, Cody also narrates the show throughout the series. Hats off Mr Signore, and cheers for introducing me to the WWTD universe.
Customary spoiler ALERT if you have not already binged listened to the three episodes of WWTD just yet, as I will be offering up my own thoughts, and opinions on the show within this review. These theories may blow some plot holes in the story, so consider this your fair warning.
The plot outline see’s us follow anti-hero Christian Anderson (Brian Stivale) travelling across varying American territories throughout three chapters. Brian’s vocal delivery of Christian fits in with this weathered, no-nonsense, loner of a character seamlessly. Christian is not your stereotypical ‘man with no name’ bounty hunter as he harbours a shadowy past, including carrying along with him some rather precious cargo. The contents inside Christian’s saddlebag consist of a man’s mangled corpse riddled with months of decay. But why is Christian carrying such a foul freight? Or to coin a phrase used throughout the series “what’s in the bag?”
Through Christian’s travels he encounters some disturbing characters, and strangely all of them recognise who the person is within the body bag. In episode one Christian meets a bunch of ruthless cannibals. Mama & the Animals, which if they weren’t cold-hearted cannibal killers would be an ultra-cool name for a band. Mama (Kim Ramón), and her gang try to drug Christian and steal his prized corpse. Fortunately for our gunslinger, the Mama gang are a couple of gunmen short of a posse, and Christian gains the upper hand and escapes. This is the point where Christian also meets and saves a young girl Hannah who becomes his almost silent companion in his quest to Missouri.
During episode two Christian stumbles across Daniel, a travelling cameraman for hire, a confidence man using his influence to fulfil an unsettling fetish on his unsuspecting prey. A despicable character brought to life literally made my skin crawl! Cody’s detailed description of the early camera process techniques is a nice touch reminding us how images were painstakingly made in those pioneering days of photography. A shot of Christian & his corpse can be seen below. I guess they didn’t say “cheese” back in the day then!
A brief character mention should also go out to Elizabeth (Heather Foster) who gives a sterling performance as the inquisitive saloon gal Christian is introduced to within chapter three’s bar scene. I loved the way she phrased her lines in that wonderful Deep South drawl.
The shows timeline buffer’s about like Tarantino’s movie Pulp Fiction as we move back & forth from past & present keeping the audience firmly on its toes. As the series progresses we learn more about Christian’s humanity as he mentions that he, himself has young children, and in chapter two we establish that sadly like most uneducated people of that era Christian cannot read. These small clever refinements included within the writing help the listener build, and form a more human picture of Christian. Perhaps he might not be the initial monster we all had him pegged out to be (just maybe).
As we follow Christian’s epic pilgrimage the descriptive writing, and portrayal of landscape, terrain, surroundings, and topography is splendidly brought to life. For example, if said scene features weather that is cold, and desolate the listener gets a window seat into that extreme environment. If the mercury suddenly soars and the settings change to stifling heat, the listener gets sunburnt (it’s that good!)
All of this before I begin to mention how trailblazing Cody’s writing is within the western world of WWTD. Nuance alert, the level of detail, and the distinction delivered within his narration fit this audio drama like a glove! Credit must also go to the amazing Bond-Esque, pre-title sequences with every new episode, peppering the podcast with yet more added dimension. The twist and turns within the show definitely keep the listener guessing.
Let me make a bold statement about the sound design within this show. It truly is the Tesla of sound design! Rain, horse hoofs, crackling campfire, blizzards, honky-tonk piano, stooping vultures, and locomotives it has all been encased and crafted by Cody. The way the background music interlaces within the framework of a scene is super slick. That slickness also allows individual artists to close out an episode with their own unique musical style. My favourite of these tracks is the bluesy, ballsy ‘Stormy Shapes’ by Soldier Story, which reminds me slightly of the opening of ‘Love Spreads’ by The Stone Roses. I digress, the inclusion of all three tracks seems to resonate with the landscape of this audio drama perfectly (tracks listed below).
“Carry me Home” by The Sweeplings
“Stormy Shapes” by Soldier Story
“Beware” by Beware Of Darkness
So who is this podcast for? For any fans of horror & westerns, and keen eyes for details. Fans of the author Stephen King would also enjoy this unrighteous take on the old west. You can tell that Cody has poured his heart into this project to make it work, and real talent always shines through!
I would also like to personally thank Cody for walking me through the voice casting process he adopted whilst casting WWTD in a covid world. This particular process has long been of interest to me. That insight into the mechanics of the podcasting world. Script run-through, director notes, and requests for specific line deliveries were such an eye-opening, and invaluable education for me. Cheers fella.
I really hope you have enjoyed reading this review for ‘Wandering With The Dead’ which is undoubtedly worth checking out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Cody is yet another extremely talented independent podcaster that needs more recognition for his perseverance, and unbelievable work. If my review strikes a chord with you I highly recommend you head over to the official WWTD website for more details about the show. Or better still if this review has piqued your interest please rate & review the show in order to spread the good word.
If you are looking for another indie audio drama positively brimming with creative class I highly recommend that you jump on Dirt by the equally talented podcaster Kris Kaiyala. You will thank me.
Are you looking to have your podcast or audio drama reviewed like Cody’s? Well look no further you’ve unexpectedly stumbled across your perfect partner Tea in the Sahara. Whatever your genre you can reach me via my contacts page.
Hopefully, if you have made it this far down the page you have enjoyed my style of writing. If you did why not check out my other reviews, and maybe like and leave me a comment cheers, Kev.