september 2009

Dani Wilde: Leaving no emotional stone unturned

Wilde Heart
By David McGee

thumbnailHEAL MY BLUES
Dani Wilde
Ruf Records

A native of Wiltshire, England, Dani Wilde sounds like she grew up at various times on Chicago's South Side and in the dark heart of the Mississippi Delta, maybe with a pit stop along the way in Motown. Like a number of outstanding female artists emerging in the blues field in recent years, she's not averse to spicing her blues with some country ingredients and hard driving rock 'n' roll (one such example of the latter is the furious, unrelenting title track, the second cut on this disc, which features not only a fiercely rocking rhythm but also a gritty vocal by Wilde made doubly appealing by her unself-conscious squeals at a couple of junctures, squeals arising not by design but by the sheer intensity of her immersion in the moment). She's also a heck of a guitarist, as any number of solo spotlights prove herein, with a lot of Buddy Guy's searing attack in her own elegantly crafted excursions. And, not least of all, Wilde leaves no emotional stone unturned as a singer—Heal My Blues may be one of the most draining blues records you'll ever hear, owing to the electrifying, gripping vocals Wilde unleashes. "I Love You More Than I Hate Myself" rises from a whisper to a roar, and the point at which Wilde unburdens herself of the pain consuming her and cries to the heavens has the primeval punch of a certain Mr. Plant back in the Zep's heyday. That's nothing, though, compared to her intense declaiming in the southern soul drenched "Testify," an outright message song protesting the use of children as soldiers in Third World countries. This is a cause she's deeply invested in as a result of her charitable work in Kenya: while studying for a music degree she established a charity project to raise money for County Primary School in Embu Kenya. By hosting regular concerts in the South of England, Wilde raised enough money to provide the underprivileged school music education through her Children of Kenya Foundation. More message songs should have the forcefulness and urgency of "Testify." The band stomps and grinds behind her, with her brother Will Wilde moaning and wailing on harmonica as she spits out the lyrics with arresting conviction—you don't need to go back and listen again to get a clue when she vocally pokes you in the chest and shouts, "So don't turn your head the other way/When I'm trying to tell you what's going on/Educate yourself, enlighten yourself, you've got shock yourself/To right these wrongs!" To cool down from "Testify" she glides into a slow, seductive version of John Lee Hooker's "In the Mood," her tasty, fingerpicked Delta stylings supported by Will's honking harp as she moans her sly come-on.

The album's one "uh-oh" moment comes when she eases into "I'm Going Down." Penned by Norman Whitfield, originally recorded by Rose Royce, covered by Mary J. Blige, it's a wrenching lost love song, but coming from a different place than Wilde has visited heretofore. When she intones the first verse in a melodramatic, melismatic voice, adding a squeaky upper register fillip here and there, the theatrics are starting to get a bit overwrought and unsettling. But Wilde brings it back—brings it back to the church, in fact, thanks in part to the grandeur of Morg Morgan's rich, humming Hammond, and mostly to the hard left she takes to make it as much an appeal for divine guidance, a prayer for salvation, as a self-serving lament. It's a remarkable transformation she works on the song, and it sets up a cool trifecta of numbers to finish up on, starting with the exuberant strut of her own "Slow Coach," with lively interjections from Will's harp and Morgan's honky-tonk-inflected piano as Dani adds a determined vocal asserting her will to move on up in the world and not be dragged down by slackers ("I'm in the fast lane/you better keep up/Sitting in my back seat just ain't good enough"); after that she stomps through Junior Wells's "Little By Little," then goes out with an unsetting, solo acoustic ballad, "People Like You," in which a daughter confesses to her unforgiving mother some deed she's done that has the whole town talking, and not in a flattering way. At the end, though, the dirty deed is revealed to be something in the nature of crusading against injustice, as Wilde cries out, "Don't you want to create a modern world we can all be proud of?/And what the fuck ever happened to equal opportunity?/Seems it's always one rule for one, and another for me/She said it's true, what they say about people like you." With an outstanding band behind her, a good head on her shoulders, something to say and being bold in saying it, Dani Wilde makes it clear she's going to stand with other young female blues artists of the day who are broadening the genre's lexicon to include a specific feminine viewpoint on relationships, personal aspirations and contemporary social concerns. If her emotions are a tad overwrought on occasion, a little too mannered, her heart's always in the right place—the former can be corrected with experience, the latter is hard to fix if it's not there to begin with. Keep tabs on this gal. The effort will be worth it. —David McGee

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Dani Wilde performs John Lee Hooker's 'In the Mood,' from her debut album, Heal My Blues


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024