Artist: Wilkinson Blades
Distributed by: Shiftone Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The Wilkinson Blades didn’t start out as a formal band, but an informal get together of musicians to help create a new project under the leadership of singer/singwriter/guitarist Steve Wilkinson. Having been on the scene for quite a few years, Wilkinson was looking for a change with his debut album for his new band. Albums created with Steve Wilkinson’s other bands seemed to be rushed, with a sense of urgency. For once, Wilkinson wanted to work on an album with no deadlines, no budget constraints and no expectations. The Wilkinson Blades debut album, 4:00 AM, took five years to make and I was just recently given the opportunity to see whether or not five years was worth the wait.
Originally featuring Steve Wilkinson on all instruments with guest performers assisting on tracks, the Portland, Oregon-based Wilkinson Blades now features Wilkinson on vocals and guitar, Johnny Huck on bass, Jon Beyers on drums, Grant Crumpston on guitar and back-up vocals and Rich Lander on keyboards, mandolin and back-up vocals. Wilkinson’s vocals are deep and resonating with anguish, reminiscent of Eddie Vedder in his better days. The Wilkinson Blades sound is somewhat a mix of rock and country.
The eleven track album features some interesting songs featuring lyrics that you may have to listen to a couple of times to ascertain just what the singer is trying to impart on his audience. I listened to this album three times in an effort to understand the messages and I think I managed to actually get a few of them. One of my favorite tracks on the album is No One Alive in which the singer reminds us that time flies by faster and faster the older you get until you realize that you may survive all sorts of difficulties, but the end result will always be the same – fate will eventually catch up to you. After all, no one lives forever.
I also enjoyed the band’s cover of the Lee Hazelwood cover Some Velvet Morning, a trippy sort of song that calls up the image of a Greek goddess imparting some carnal knowledge, but can also be interpreted as a song about an escape into a drug-induced stupor. Covers seem to be something that the Wilkinson Blades do well. Their cover of Chris Newman’s Crippled Mind is full of anguish, pain and raw emotion.
Tying things up with the thought provoking, image-inducing lyrics of Walking in the Snow, more than made up for the annoying lyrics of the second track of the album, Bug River Blues. I understood what the singer was trying to say in Bug River Blues, but the bingo bango yadda yadda nonsense just got on my nerves. But Walking in the Snow - I actually had a picture in my mind of the scene being presented. No One Alive may be my one of my favorites, but Walking in the Snow is the best track on the album. Oh, and the best line – it's from my least favorite song (Bug River Blues): “There’s no one around to tell me I’m wrong…or worse…that I’m right.”
In closing, I have to say that there is enough on 4:00 AM to call this album a successful debut for Wilkinson Blades. The music is quite professional sounding and really well put together considering the band members were not all present for the recording sessions (their pieces were recorded at another location and mixed in). The vocals are gruff and sexy and the lyrics are interesting. But will fans want to wait another five years for the sophomore album? Time will tell, but my advice is to get more music out there while your act is considered unique and interesting. Taking too much time might cause folks to forget what your band was all about.