by: Thomas D. Mooney
It’s nearly 10pm. Remnants of the sun’s rays are still reflecting off tree tops and shingles in the distance on the west side of town. Street lamps are still turning on as they soak up the day’s retreating light. Looking through the shadows, the faded sunset glows like the onset of a bruise.
The hum of engines and chirping crickets are the white noise as the occasional car door slamming breaks the medium. A commercial jet silently cruises over town. The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter appears in the Western sky. Noctilucent clouds break up the blank canvas night sky.
It’s pretty active for a Tuesday night. Musicians and the like fill up a corner of Blue Light near the bar and outer window. They’re lined up for handshakes and hellos as another joins every five minutes. Tables and chairs are filling up folks coming to hear the golden pipes of Zac Wilkerson and the disciplined storytelling of Chris Beall.
Accompanying Wilkerson tonight is Wayward Soul Daniel Davis on keyboards. They’ve made the drive down from the Yellow City while Beall’s made the drive from Austin. He’s currently on the beginning stretch of a Midwest Tour–with the emphasis on west–that’ll take him as far as Stanley, Idaho.
“I’m really glad [Natalie] Maines is getting into that Walk of Fame,” says Wilkerson. “I’m not gonna be afraid to tell people I’m a fan. Those records are so damn good.”
He’s right. They are fucking good. My mind starts shuffling through Dixie Chicks songs that Wilkerson could cover and absolutely kill on. You’re right, all of them is the correct answer. But for the sake of argument, I’ll throw my money on something like “You Were Mine” (No, picking songs like “Landslide,” “Top of the World,” and “Wide Open Spaces” can’t be picked because they’re really other people’s songs).
Wilkerson is wearing his black v-neck and blue jeans as per usual. There’s a bit of a running joke around here that whenever anyone is wearing a black T and jeans, they’re a ZT&WS roadie.
Old man soul. Country soul. Soul. Soul man. It’s just natural with Wilkerson. Vocally, yeah he’s in that cliché “sing the phone book” class. Anyone can hear that. But he does just overpower a song. He doesn’t blast through throwing out vocal pyrotechnics with every line and word. He holds back. Soothes. Cools. Composed.
But when it does come, it demands even the attention of the inattentive and out of touch. Heads turn and ears perk. People get excited. The groove hits. It affects people.
So yeah, the voice is an obvious talking point with Wilkerson, but where he’s really improved is on the things less glamorous and people take for granted. He’s improved his guitar playing. Lyrically, he’s not just writing a pleasant hook for the masses that just suits his voice. There’s some incredible lines and word play happening.
Too often those with soaring pipes, they rely on them and their songwriting and storytelling become lazy and content with mediocrity. The “I can sing it well so it doesn’t really matter” line of thought. It ruins them and fools them into thinking they’re better than they actually are.
Wilkerson has been able to elude this kind of shortcoming so far. On his debut, Zac Wilkerson, he along with the producing guidance of Walt Wilkins, kept it on line. It was a short, concise eight tracks. No filler. No weak points. Storytelling was stellar. Emotion was sincere and raw.
In the “solo” show setting, Wilkerson does something a little different from his contemporaries. A) The keyboard talents of Davis are often there and B) He stays plugged in and skips the acoustic guitar route.
He sticks to his guns and it makes a difference. Even when Davis doesn’t make the trek, Wilkerson is playing electric. It helps him stick to a sound and style.
There’s a graceful dance that Wilkerson’s soul-filled vocals and groove-filled guitar do. The guitars are a bit sharper while the vocals are hearty and boundless. With Davis’ keys, there comes the backing soul that really serves as the dance floor that Wilkerson’s voice and guitar glide across.
Wilkerson and Beall songs echo out onto Buddy Holly Ave. People come, people go. The soul remains the same.