Killer or Filler?
First, we need to playfully slap Clay Wilson on the ass for not thanking “God” or “our heavenly father” or “6-pound/10-ounce baby Jesus” in the liner notes to The Clay Wilson Band’s freshly released debut full-length, Desperate. Though documentation is sketchy, the past jillion years have never seen a single radio-country artist release an album whose liner notes did not contain some praise for the God under which the great U.S. of A. was founded.
True, Wilson could have caused a riot –– and alienated 100 percent of his current and potential fans instead of just 80 percent and ended up above the fold in tomorrow’s New York Times –– by giving all thanks and praise to Allah. (Could you imagine? A Muslim Texas Music artist? Dude would be on the cover of every magazine and on every talk-show whether or not his music was any good.)
But Weatherford’s Wilson knows what he’s doing. Desperate is finely written, performed, and recorded –– maybe too finely. Now, not every record has to blur genres or flirt with anarchy or be epic. There’s nothing wrong with a collection of straight-ahead numbers that by their simplicity can appeal to vast amounts of people –– or if not “appeal to,” then maybe “not offend.” Desperate is an inoffensive as a sleeping baby seal, which is not to say it’s less than professional. “Not OK” is one of the album’s sharpest tracks, a brooding, swaying slow-burner about the depths of a breakup. Great lyric: “Pull up your skirt and have another stiff drink / Try to make him act so he won’t have to think / Stupid is as stupid does / It’s all a shade of gray / And I’d love to get to watch / Your moment of disarray.” Voyeurism is creepy, sure, but Wilson paints a clear picture of a femme fatale whose wiles are, unfortunately, pretty familiar to the singer (and also maybe to most of the guys in his town). (Speaking of blurred genres, the song explodes into a Dropkick Murphys-like anthem at the end, all charging drums and a whoa-oh-ohhh’ing male chorus.)
“Storm” is a ballad-y heartbreaker that borders on schmaltzy about a boy and inclement weather. OK, not really. “The sound of thunder kept me up all night,” Wilson sings, his voice tinged with twang and maybe just a little too achy-breaky. “Tried to sleep, but it don’t feel right without you in my bed / Starting to dread / The storm.” What’s not to like? Maybe none of us ever had to date a person with an irrational fear of thunderstorms, but we can relate to the sentiment: that we are nothing if not massive depositories of idiosyncrasies.
But if an artist isn’t really stretching his musical and lyrical muscles, isn’t he just contributing to the din? What can the Clay Wilsons of the world do to separate themselves from, well, the other Clay Wilsons? “Can’t See Straight” could have been an awesome pro-binge-drinking singalong, but young Clay slips in the fact that even though he’s getting wasted at a bar he’s surrendered his car keys. Now, drunk driving is not funny. Not at all. But couldn’t Wilson just have left all that out? The rest of the song is filled with glamorizations of potentially harmful behavior, including but not limited to drinking ’til you “Can’t See Straight” and soliciting one-night stands. Why wuss out by saying, effectively, “Look at me! I’m gettin’ all crazy! But I’m getting crazy responsibly”? Leaving out the disappearing car keys would have given Wilson a little competitive, dangerous edge. But retaining mention of them is somewhat redolent of pandering to the mainstream –– the last thing a musician wants to do is be responsible for promoting reckless behavior, right, Jim Morrison?
The most radio-ready song on the album is, naturally, the sixth track. (Yes, there is an unwritten rule that an artist’s first or only single must be the fifth or sixth track on his album.) “You’re Gone” has power and punch, skipping and strumming along, and the chorus is the kind in which a brief melody is hammered into the listener’s skull. But that is –– as they say –– entertainment. Anyway, if The Ranch isn’t already playing “You’re Gone,” well, The Ranch is crazy. The song is that solid.
Perhaps the most surprising Desperate track is “War,” a muscular tune sung with appreciable intensity by Wilson, his voice breathy and ominous. “No, I wooooon’t lay-eee down and die,” he growls. “There won’t beeeee a white flag in the sky / I’m gonna fight / Lord knows, I’m gonna fight for you / And there’s nothing / No, there’s nothing no army can do.”
And that “Lord knows” is probably just an expression. Probably.
–– Anthony Mariani
THe BAcksliders: THe BAcksliders from Dallas, Texas
You’ve got to hand it to Big D’s eccentrically capitalized BAcksliders. (A hedge against lawsuits from the umpteen other similarly named bands out there? You decide!) An über-exciting live act with a smokin’ hot frontwoman and smart songcraft courtesy of her guitar-slingin’ husband, they’ve also been a prolific recording unit, releasing no fewer than four albums in just five years. It’s been enjoyable to observe their evolution from purveyors of a dusty y’allternative sound through ravin’ rock ’n’ soul ramalama to the well-balanced mélange of pop and roots influences evident on the new disc, THe BAcksliders from Dallas, Texas.While the married-couple musical tandem begs comparisons to Ike and Tina or Phil and Ronnie, the one that really resonates is Nick Lowe and Carlene Carter. The B-sliders’ Chris Bonner pens the same kind of roots-referential pop tunes as Mr. Pure Pop for Now People, while beneath all of the soul-inspired stagecraft, ex-Vibrolux/Lithium Xmas chanteuse Kim Bonner has the same country-pop ache in her voice as Carter (when Carter used to rock ’n’ roll). Indeed, from its galloping, Buddy Holly-esque intro, the opening “I Don’t Even Want to Talk to You” sounds like an outtake from the late-’70s album that Lowe made with Dave Edmunds under the rubric Rockpile. “Talk to My Heart,” meanwhile, strongly recalls “Blame It on Cain” from Elvis Costello’s Lowe-produced debut.
THe BAcksliders really start to flex their musical muscles with “I Don’t Feel It Anymore,” a piano-driven ballad that’s beautifully sung by Kim and elevated –– nay, levitated –– by the surprising intrusion of an oozingly psychedelic guitar solo from ubiquitous Denton eminence Ryan Thomas Becker. The album’s other highlights are “Turn On Your Radio,” a soul ballad with clear-eyed lyrics about a wrecked relationship, and “You Got Something,” which sounds to these feedback-scorched ears like it could actually have bona fide mainstream country hit potential. A pair of rootsy rockers, “Regular Nights” and “Getaway Driver,” highlights the crisp economy of Chris and pianist Nathan Adamson’s production. There’s not a note wasted. Here and throughout the album, journeyman drummer Earl Darling shows his worth, setting the pace with less showboating than THe BAcksliders’ previous percussionists.
Kim, Chris, and crew will roll out the new album at Lola’s Saloon (2736 W. 6th St., 817-877-0666) on Saturday with The Phuss and The Demigs.
–– Ken Shimamoto
Sat w/The Phuss, The Demigs. $8-10.
2736 W 6th St, FW.