I remember a time when I wanted to be famous. I was a young kid and was fascinated by people who were constantly on TV or in magazines. It didn’t matter who they were; sports stars, actors, musicians, etc. It just seemed like they were leading some sort of glamorous life and I wanted in. Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But then again I remember an interview with Kurt Cobain where he said he just wanted to be the guitar player who was in the background. For a guy like Cobain fate just seemed to intervene. That is one side of fame. But the other side of fame, a side I don’t think many people realize is sheer passion; a passion to devote your whole life to something, and something that takes a certain amount followers to sustain. Let’s be honest no one with any sort of funding is going to back you unless they think you have talent and they see you have an audience willing to support you.
Liverpudlian singer songwriter Paul Wilkes sounds to me like a man who has that aforementioned passion. His latest album Shadow & Shade is evidence of that. Wilkes worked with producer Chris Potter who worked with The Verve and their front man Richard Ashcroft. As a guy who listened to those Verve albums when they were new, let me tell you nearly twenty years on they sound even better now than they did then. And back then they were tops.
Wilkes opens Shadow & Shade with the bluesy toe tappin’ and catchy “Close the Doors” where he makes use of lyrical repetition - “So come on and dance til the mornin’ comes /and lets pretend we’ll stay forever young.” He has that Ashcroftian drawl and it’s at once as commanding as his predecessors. It’s like a drug, one that keeps you wanting to listen. It works rather well especially when paired with equally powerful backing female vocals, an accoutrement found on the scratchy blues rocker “Just Say Something.” However Wilkes sounds just as good if not better when accompanied by his own voice as he does on the beautiful campfire acoustic “River Flowing.”
Now that I’ve waxed poetic about Wilke’s lyrics and vocals let’s talk about his guitar playing which is simple but simply perfect on the stomp rock blues of “No Longer I Need” in which he intricately teaches a class on how to play an acoustic guitar. He does it effortlessly and one would seem to miss his little tics, ones which he modestly shows off on the dream lovely dream-state of “Alone for this One.” Wilkes saves perhaps the best for last or perhaps the saddest for last. With “Gone” a slow and dreary acoustic heart bursting alt country tune seems the perfect capstone to an album full of confessions.
Luckily for anyone willing to listen Paul Wilkes will be here now, or at least for the foreseeable future. There is a big world out there. There is a lot of everything and in my case I get to hear a lot of music. I listen to it. I write about it. I move on. But when something grabs me it grabs me. I don’t forget it. I have to go back, like Doc says to Marty. I can still see Richard Aschroft’s big white shoe on the cover of Urban Hymns, and see those dudes sitting on that hill. I remember where I was back then. It made an impression on me, those songs. A similar impression was made on me all these years later by Shadow & Shade. It’s likely to be a lasting impression.
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