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Into the Mystery
Artist: David Wilcox
Label: What Are Records
So far this has been an incredible year for album releases, just when I think it can't get any better it does. The latest to perk up my senses is the newest endeavor from singer songwriter David Wilcox. Into the Mystery is just a perfect example of great songwriting, playing and production. This latest addition to the Wilcox library was produced by Monk mastermind Ric Hordinski. The players on the project include David on voice and guitar and Ric on electric guitars, lap steel, octave 12 string guitar, percussion, bass loops and treatments. Also along for the ride are Josh Seurkamp on drums, percussion and loops, Phil Keaggy on bass and Paul Patterson on violin and mandolin. Rounding out the cast are Nance Pettit and Renee Frye on backing vocals. I know that David usually performs as a solo artist but my mouth waters at the thought of seeing this group playing live in some small dark club.
The majority of the tunes here are solo Wilcox compositions but David has collaborated on a number of tunes with such writers as Pierce Pettis, Tom Prasada Rao and Maia Sharp. With a crew like this how can you go wrong, if this disc is any example, you can't. In the liner notes David states that his first ten recordings were practice and that now he is ready to play. A quote from the notes reads:" Like the fragrance of the roses that can reach you through the cracks around your door love speaks to your heart. Please, ask for more." This just about sums up the overall feel of this album, it is a love song from an artist to his fans.
I have gotten a few albums since this one came my way but I keep returning to this album for the pure joy of listening to some outstanding music. David, Ric, et all thank you for some mighty fine musical moments. So far I tend to think that "If It Wasn't For The Night" a Wilcox, Pettis composition is my favorite song of the year. There is one picture on the inner sleeve of David's hands on his guitar neck that is worth the price of the cd in and of itself. Check out the web site at www.davidwilcox.com
Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock 4/3/2003
If James Taylor was twenty years younger, had a little more edge to his guitar playing, was a whole lot more lucid in his poetry--which was more intrusive to the heart and mind and soul in bringing provocation, healing and illumination of beauty--then he still would not be as good as David Wilcox, but he might be compared to him!
Into the Mystery is Wilcox's eighth studio album in 15 years, and though most of those have a consistency lacking among his peers of singer-songwriters, it rates as good as anything he has ever done. Ric Hordinski is certainly one reason that raises it above its predecessors; not far into the opening "If It Wasn't For the Night," we are reminded of those beautiful guitar flicks and flourishes that used to caress Over The Rhine albums and more recently his own band Monk.
Hordinski adds his production perspective as he did on 1997's Turning Point, but his role here has been to be a whole lot less intrusive. In some ways he does what cover photographer Michael Wilson does so wonderfully, spotting that little flicker of light or angle that changes the same picture into a stunning piece of art. So Paul Patterson's violin and mandolin and Hordinski's lap steel, treatment and loops peer just over the shoulder of these songs to give them the shade that adds to their moods and textures. Amazingly, guitar legend Phil Keaggy plays bass!
It is still the songs that set Wilcox apart. It is his wisdom in love and faith and life that makes him one of the valued travelling companions that he talked about in last year's Live Songs and Stories album. Pierce Pettis, one of Wilcox's few contemporaries, who can be mentioned in the same breath (or sit beside him in the same sentence!) co-writes the opening "If It Wasn't For the Night," which continues untangling one of Wilcox's recurring themes--the juxtaposition of evil and good. "If it wasn't for the night/The stars would never shine so bright" echoes previous songs' "Show the Way" and "That's What the Lonely is For." Wilcox has a thing about delving into the dark because without it we would never make sense or appreciate the light. It is a good response to that question that we all ask--why does God allow evil? Ultimately the baby in the straw on Christmas morning is where the hope is found. Another slant on the same theme is found on "Apple a Day" which suggests there would be no gain in a world without pain with the humorous image of holidaying in Eden, taking with us an apple a day!
The title is taken from Out of the Question, which again reveals much about Wilcox's intent. It is a song about elusive search for truth, the truth in his case, being God. God is indeed beyond the definitions of theologians or song writers--"I tried to trap you but I know I missed." The elusiveness makes it no less real but redefines the rules of definition: "The truth is there for finding/But the logic that's involved/A mystery unwinding/Not a problem to be solved." By album's end that God of mystery and elusiveness is bending from the galaxy of mystery to speak to us in our "Native Tongues."
Another song to be mentioned has to be the other Pettis co-write, "City of Angels," which Wilcox says is about the sixth he had written in the days after September 11. With its "we are all standing strong together," it is one of those Wilcox songs like "Hurricane" and "Covert Wars" that is very good but lacks an element of surprise. It is almost as if it is written to formula even though he's as good a formula writer as there is. Intriguingly now in the light of the Iraq War he sings about how the country is full of love and not of hate and vengeance. Indeed!
With enough depth charges to fill the ocean, Wilcox gets better and better and more and more profound.
Steve Stockman 4/21/2003