Ahhhh, easy listening. It’s the butt of many music genre jokes, actually. Whether it is easy listening or its very close sister, adult contemporary, the music constantly finds itself at the end of insulting musical tirades.
You know the sound, right? A light acoustic guitar. A soft, often-bland voice sung quietly and delicately. A musical atmosphere akin to a feathery pillow. Straight, middle-of-the-road lyrics, often shed of all conflict, emotion or angst. The words “John” and “Tesh” are frequently used when discussing the matter. You’ve heard of it, right?
Well, if you haven’t, and for some inexplicable reason you have been aching to see what all this Yanni-loving, Delilah-requesting stuff is about, local happy man Doug Alan Wilcox would love to turn you on to the wide world of easy listening and all the snoozy elements that make it what it is. The proof can be found in his latest effort, “What I Meant to Say,” a seven-track collection of songs aimed at making sure your mind never wanders into unhappy territory.
What Wilcox does with his latest album is smart. He keeps the songs short, never allowing the listener to grow tired of what is admittedly a set of predictable and over-used easy listening tricks. Yes, most of the songs feature nothing more than his acoustic guitar and lightly sung voice, but when you offer three songs that are only two minutes long, and another that is a mere 70 seconds, you at least showcase a sense of respect toward the listener, a courtesy most local artists never seem to consider.
Still, “What I Meant to Say” isn’t necessarily the best thing to ever come out of Hagerstown’s Summit House recording studio. The singer falters most when he tries to incorporate drum sounds that come across as messy and out of place.
“Be Still,” for instance, would work much better had Wilcox decided to ditch the drum machine and let his guitar rhythm carry the track. That said, the song’s lyrics aimed at relaying that always-important notion of mindlessly relaxing come across as immature and cartoon-like, instead of poignant and poetic, a theme with which Wilcox continuously wrestles throughout the album.
“Time well spent is time well wasted,” the singer croons during the song’s initial verse. Not bad, right? Well …
“Why am I always trying to do all I do / I had it all figured out / All my ducks in a row,” Wilcox continues in what becomes an unbelievable tone, thus forcing the performance to lose all serious credibility. Then it gets worse as the drum track falls out and he offers an a capella “I got a new routine / Be as late as I can be / I give myself a hand / For forgetting as much stuff as I can / And on a really good day, I can even forget my own last name.” The lines wouldn’t be half bad if he didn’t accompany the vocal performance with such an awkward walk-down in notes on his acoustic guitar. His insistence upon trying to be serious about not being serious has such an adverse effect on the track, it becomes uncomfortable to hear.
“Keeper Of The Stars” is a little better, with its hooky piano line and repetitive, pop music-like accompanying vocals. But again, the electronic drum pad insists on ruining the flow. Without it, the singer could have penned a pretty little tune that shows off his ability to expand beyond the middle-of-the-road nature of easy listening.
Where Wilcox is able to pen that pretty little tune, however, is “Distraction,” a two-minute ditty that is genuinely a good song. The lyrical content shows signs of an immature writer, but, inept lines aside, the track has a pop-jazz feel that’s refreshing. Here, that troublesome drum machine is missing in exchange for what sounds like an actual snare drum that fits perfectly with his backing harmonies. “Procrastination,” a similar sounding song, also succeeds in making the singer appear to have range while providing a downright pleasant tune.
Pleasant. That’s the word. That’s what Doug Alan Wilcox embodies on “What I Meant to Say.” And with a voice that sounds like a lighter John Denver, and a simple, happy-sounding acoustic guitar that would fit perfectly during an opening slot on a Peter, Paul and Mary tour, why wouldn’t Wilcox do his best to sound as pleasant as possible?
Who knows? With a little songwriting maturity, an attempt at realizing things would be better if he subscribed to the “less is more” philosophy (seriously — he has to throw that drum machine away tonight), and a willingness to accentuate his strengths as a musician, Wilcox could be a few years away from being the next poor man’s guitar-wielding John Tesh.
All told, what sets Wilcox apart from most other local acts is the fact that to him, being the next poor man’s guitar-wielding John Tesh isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And God bless him for that.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **