Whether it be after a performance and you have to sit at your merchandise table for hours on end, talking to that one guy who thinks “more people should definitely hear your music” right before mentioning how you should “check out my band sometime — we kind of sound like a cross between Creed and Matchbox Twenty,” or while eating out with a friend and having a housewife recognize you from that time she went to her favorite coffee shop and saw you perform, leading her to wonder aloud if you have “any CDs in your trunk” that she “might want to buy,” there will forever be one cardinal rule when it comes to local music: always have something to sell to people at all times.
And if there is one local musician who clearly understands the importance of such an idiom, it’s Doug Alan Wilcox, the first artist to have more than one release featured in this space. Nearly a year to the day that his “What I Meant to Say” was first profiled here, the coffee shop regular is back with “Not Forgotten,” a decidedly more focused effort, yet still a far distance from exactly how good his talents could be if presented properly.
The problem? Ironically, it’s the very notion that all local artists should always have something new to sell. Such a practice has actually devalued the scope of Wilcox’s work. While the novelty of short songs was an approach that worked to his advantage with last year’s release, this time around, it leaves a feeling of emptiness, as though the artist has shortchanged his listeners. Only one song here clocks in at over three minutes, and if it weren’t for abnormally long moments of silence that pop up at the end of each track, you might be hard-pressed to find anything else here that runs longer than 120 seconds.
In other words, “Not Forgotten” seems more like a collection of ideas than a presentable item that a songwriter can or should market. It’s almost as if the mere desire to record and release new material is overriding the fact that records should be collections of an artist’s best fully realized creations, rather than a set of work that struggles to have even the slightest semblance of a person’s actual talent.
This point is driven home the most on songs like “Breeze” and “Not Forgotten.” During the former, Wilcox displays one of the most prominent aspects of his songwriting, which is delicacy. As his James Taylor-like voice croons about going back to sleep, it becomes impossible to ignore how good he is at sounding soft. The title track, meanwhile, is the set’s best as the cadence with which he recites the makeshift chorus is the catchiest the singer has sounded on his two most recent outings. The only downfall of the recording? You guessed it — though he lays the groundwork for an earnestly poignant (and not to mention memorable) acoustic guitar-driven pop song, the whole thing begins to fade to black a mere two minutes into the song. The overlapping vocals, echoed guitar picking and feather-like melody all combine for a possible home run, yet the ball never leaves the infield.
The most complete song of the bunch ultimately proves to be “River Road,” a harmonica-led upbeat tune that is the loudest Wilcox could ever get (assuming the loud-o-meter is adjusted to max out at the “adult contemporary” level, mind you). While it’s a good idea, the song suffers from two things: his insistence to incorporate some type of percussive sound into the groove and a surprisingly low recording quality that makes the performance sound fuzzy when turned up loud. It’s a shame, too, because not only is “River Road” the only track that approaches the four-minute mark (thus marking the only time a real, actual, proper song appears in this set), but its base is a pretty reliable formula for singer-songwriter success: obligatory harmonica + acoustic pop chords = accessible easy listening that appeals to a large audience.
Much of the same issues creep back in on “It’s Your Heart” and the reworking of the song “Duality,” which appeared on Wilcox’s previous effort. “It’s Your Heart” is somewhat of a throwaway, though it’s also the closest thing to a ballad the singer gets here. Much like “River Road,” the percussion is utterly unnecessary and in this instance even laughable. Whether it be hand drums, a beat-up guitar or a wooden box someone is pounding on, one thing is clear: there is absolutely no need for that element to be anywhere on this record. If he wants a rhythmic backdrop, hire a band — don’t muddle things up by having these at times off-beat clicks and clacks that add less than nothing to the record. The element actually hurts “Duality” more, considering how the song would stand so much better with only his guitar/banjo and vocals. Sure, it’s a much better take on the song than what appeared on “What I Meant to Say,” but that doesn’t mean it’s anywhere near how good it could be.
And thus we return to the underlying theme of how frustrating “Not Forgotten” is. Wilcox has a nice enough voice to attract attention in a live setting. He also has enough musical sensibility to realize what works and what doesn’t, whenever he actually gives his ideas time to ferment (case in point: the difference in the quality of a song like “Duality” between records). Why he releases these incomplete puzzles as products people can actually buy isn’t just an absent-minded business move, it’s also a bit irresponsible. Think about it — when a consumer sees a local musician live and expresses interest in owning some of the material said musician is performing, the consumer doesn’t want to pay 10 bucks to hear versions of songs that are only 70 percent done, or 40 percent done, or 15 percent done. The consumer will always want entire songs, fully realized ideas, good performances and high quality.
Yes. The No. 1 rule when it comes to local music is that all artists should be ready to sell a record or a T-shirt or a button or a sticker or a keychain at the drop of a dime. But no matter what, there should never be a rush to push out as much material as you can, as fast as you can, regardless of whether it leaves you low on supplies to sell. Creating a record should be a process. What makes it impressive is the amount of work, time and thought typically put into the production of it. When that particular notion is discounted, the particular work in question is mostly always (and deservedly) discounted as well.
Forget “Not Forgotten.” The title here should be “Not Finished.”
* 1 1/2 STARS OUT OF 4 *