It was in May 1993. I was staying in a friends bedroom in Seattle and when I woke I reached out and pressed play on the cassette player… when David Wilcox’ Covert Wars came on I was hooked. A few days later as we drove down Sunset Strip in Las Vegas we stopped outside a record store just after midnight (just to say we could!) and bought his first two records Home Again and How Did You Find Me Here. I loved this guy. The honed songwriting, the guitar playing, the social observation, the spiritual underlay. I need forgiveness though because after Vista I lost the journey for a while. Until this last week when spending a day with my friend Ric Hordinski in Cincinnati he reached me the new record Blaze.
Now, what encouraged me was that Ric was involved. Ric had been the guitarist in my favourite band Over the Rhine and brought guitar genius to their early records. He was an expressive player, creating moods and atmospheres, adding real artistic avenues and alleyways. He had worked with David Wilcox before and I was eager to hear what they did now. The problem a writer like Wilcox has is that when you are just such a great songwriter in the traditional form, creating melodies and choruses at will then over time you need some added twist to keep it interesting. If a songwriter is looking for that then you get blessed when you know Ric Hordinksi. He is to Wilcox what Daniel Lanois was to Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan!
As predicted, to my mind by the collaboration, my ears experienced an instant impact. The Oil Talking To Ya is Wilcox at his prophetic best. Seeing hopeful alternative living in the middle of our current slavery to the system in general and oil in particular. Hordinski’s guitar goes off on one. It is a magnificent combination; hard edged and exhilarating.
Then it is straight into a delightful love song Ocean Soul. That is not all that common in the Wilcox canon. Yet, when he writes a love song it is always a vital one. This time Hordinski brings a more subtle underlay that gives more solid effect.
So it goes on. In the liner notes Wilcox writes about the influence of his cycling to the record. It seems that as he has been keeping himself physically fit he has been exercising the muscles of soul and imagination, pondering the landscapes of his inner life as he has enjoyed the hills and canyons around him. There jus a lot on this album about how to live in the now, with a hope for what is ahead and how to deal with the past in the light of that.
Let me take you from the first two to the last two songs. Sacrifice, again building on Hordinski’s rumbling city street riff, is an almost spoken word story song, about a policeman coming upon the murder of a young teenage boy. Wilcox is the best story teller in the genre and this song is as good as I have ever heard him. It takes one story and throws us back across history in a meditation on sacrifice, blood and things washed away. He takes us to an Aztec Temple rather than the more obvious Calvary but as that is my story I didn’t miss the connection. Stunning.
To end Single Candle is a gentler more traditional Wilcox sound BUT the chorus: -
“A match will burn for long enough to light a single candle
A candle only burns until he conversation’s done
One bright conversation shines a light across a lifetime
And your quick life had time enough to shine like the sun.”
I quoted it within days in a sermon. It is so good. It is written about Dr. Martin Luther King but it could be about us all. I have always found in my life that the most revolutionary acts are those that begin in a conversation over coffee or a meal. But let me stop preaching again, this is another moment on Blaze when David Wilcox reminds you just how good he is. I am glad to be reminded. Thank you Mr. Hordinski for a very fine gift.