april 2009

Township Records

Usually leading his band The Underground Township, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Graham Wilkinson cut a bunch of solo acoustic songs in a friend's apartment some time back, and promptly put them away to focus on his other projects. Persuaded by Town Council Publishing president Wayne Dalchau to release the collection on CD, Wilkinson now has something on his hands, namely an immediate claim to being one of his generation's most promising singer-songwriters. The stark immediacy of these performances—both instrument(s) and voice are close-miked and dramatically present, whether the listener is taking them in via headphones or out loud—is in and of itself riveting. Wilkinson comes at you in a whiskey-voiced rasp, the voice of a singer who's hard to fool once, much less twice; one that hints at an elevated sensitivity to little betrayals afflicted by others in his world, and to his own shortcomings in confronting personal issues head-on (for more on this, check out the bluesy lamentations of "Cornerstone," a song given added dramatic heft by the presence of an uncredited but sonorous organ humming behind the drawling vocal and thumping guitar, in which he admits, "And if I had a hand of cards dealt to me/I'd fold 'em down/'cause I'd much rather sleep/'cause I'm in too deep..."). But as he observes, also in "Cornerstone," "my guilty side's got a sweet side too." One of the most endearing of these confessions comes in the bright pop tint—dare one say "sunny"?—of "Sunrise," in which he woos a paramour by urging her to tell him all the secrets she otherwise withholds, because, in the interest of full disclosure, "I'm gonna let you in/I'm gonna tell you all the places I shouldn't have been." The inner conflicts of his protagonists are boldly , and memorably, articulated in "Believe and Survive," the title itself being something of a philosophical mantra, the story arc alternating between dark, doom-laden verses and sweet-natured choruses. The verses offer a litany of harrowing biographical details: the bastard son disowned by the man who seems to delight in finding out he's not the father; the fallen parishioner who's told by a priest that hell is reserving a special place for him; the vagrant arrested and promised by the police that he's "gonna get what's coming to you" and is summarily imprisoned by a hard-hearted judge. But things change when the chorus arrives, and it's as tender and giving as the verses are dark and doom-laden, Wilkinson singing of the strength he finds in the memory of a woman who waits for him and the courage that arrives with each day's rising sun. Old Sol and its life giving properties figure in one of the album's standout numbers, the wry "It's Good To Be Loved." It's hard to tell whether Wilkinson is being sincere or cynical here, but it doesn't really matter—take from the song what you will, and that'll be fine. But if you're familiar with Randy Newman's sardonic side, you'll enjoy Wilkinson's wry delivery of the opening lyric, "It's so good to be loved/it's great to be appreciated/so nice to see the sun shine upon the ones you love/there's people that are gone/and Lord I miss 'em dearly/but I meet people all the time, everywhere I go..." The song has a folky lilt to it, and Wilkinson does a note-perfect job of seeming slightly befuddled by the wonders he chronicles in song. Interesting character, this Graham Wilkinson; he ought to come around these parts more often. —David McGee

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024