The David Wilcox success story reads with a predictability that's damn near awe-inspiring. A student from a small college nestled in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains, Wilcox settled into a cozy local club where his literate, confessional folk style was admired by a group of loyal regulars. Whether or not anyone noticed it at the time, his warm vocals, strange guitar tunings and impeccable sense of life's small ironies attempted to bridge the gap that divides '70s icons James Taylor and Joni Mitchell from wordsmiths such as Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, who came into their own on the heels of punk. A lofty goal, but a worthy one.
Soon, more than just the folks around Wilcox's Asheville, North Carolina home began to take him a little more seriously, and the inevitable lucky break came in Nashville in 1988, just another stop along the small touring circuit he had designed to limit the chances of car problems. A scout from A&M Records saw Wilcox's show at the Bluebird Cafe and drew up a contract. Wilcox, impressed with A&M's hands-off approach to its artists, signed a deal soon thereafter. What followed were a trio of modestly brilliant releases -- 1989's How Did You Find Me Here, 1991's Home Again and 1994's Big Horizon -- all of which chart the evolution of a thoroughly introspective individual in the vivid language of an earthy, modern-day poet.
Good as it is, though, the Ohio-bred singer/songwriter's studio work gives little indication of the emotional charge exchanged between audience and performer at a typical David Wilcox show. And to be quite honest, neither does the new East Asheville Hardware, a pleasant enough roundup of live Wilcox favorites such as "Johnny's Camaro," "Fearless Love" and "Top of My Head." You've likely heard the claim many times before, but in this case, it bears repeating: nothing beats Wilcox in the flesh. His wry between-song asides, amusing stories, gorgeous baritone and discreet intricacies on guitar have a way of humanizing even the largest venues and making everyone feel a part of Wilcox's remarkable little universe -- for the night, anyway. -- Hobart Rowland
David Wilcox performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $15, $24.50 and $27.50. For info, call 869-8427.
Big Daddy Kinsey and the Kinsey Report -- Born in Mississippi and raised in the jagged urban landscape of Gary, Indiana, Big Daddy Kinsey developed a version of the blues that has a thoroughly modern point of view without the uptown swagger. Whether he sings of social ills or belts more traditional low-down themes, Kinsey does it with the measured respect of an elder statesman. Not so his band, the Kinsey Report, which includes Big Daddy offspring Donald, Ralph and Kenneth. Brash and fearless players always pushing their genre into more elaborate and wild realms, the Report explores the boundaries of rock, jazz, reggae and blues fusion -- that is, when Big Daddy's not around to rein them in. Under other circumstances, Big Daddy and his band would clash like Pat Boone fronting Metallica. But this is family, and the two generations feed off each other to create an alloy of tensile strength. Big Daddy sits down, blows a dusty harp and gravels a dirt-road vocal; the band stands and attacks the electrics to produce a supersonic wail. Big Daddy keeps his kids from straying completely off the path; the Kinsey Report brings Big Daddy into the 21st century. When it comes to tight, there's no substitute for blood.
Big Daddy and sons play a one-size-fits-all kind of blues. Feel like a dirty dog? Big Daddy tells it like it is. Need a spiritual lift? The Kinsey Report moves the soul to a higher plane. Hungry for pyrotechnics? Donald's guitar playing requires approval from the fire marshal. Wanna dance? Can't help but boogie to this beat, Jack. Having slashed his touring schedule to 100-odd dates annually, Big Daddy is a rarer sight than his sons, who tour year-round whether or not dad's on the bus. But with the band stepping on-stage a bit before Big Daddy, the combo show remains the ideal Kinsey experience. Just ask yo mama. At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6. Tickets are $10. 869-COOL. (Bob Burtman)
Spare Time's Open Mike Blues Jam -- The Shakespeare Pub has long been a testament to the quixotic strength of the blues, that music that always sounds best after a lengthy journey to a small out-of-the-way club. And like any good neighborhood blues joint, the Shakespeare keeps the music in shape with a weekly jam where the local giants flaunt their skills, and those learning the craft are welcome to get on-stage and show what they've got -- before returning to their seats knowing they've had their musical butts kicked by authentic Texas legends.
Veteran bass player Eugene "Spare Time" Murray has been hosting the Shakespeare's Sunday night jam for four years. Murray's other regular gig is with Jerry Lightfoot's Essentials, where he routinely shows that he's one of the tightest sidemen around. Murray's is a talent that allows the evening to flow seamlessly from guest to guest. Sometimes the frontman-of-the-moment is a longtime legend such as Joe "Guitar" Hughes or Little Joe Washington; other times it's one of Houston's up-and-coming journeyman guitar-slingers such as Mark Mays, Leonard "Low Down" Brown or Rick Lee. Who's going to be there on any given Sunday? Why, Spare Time and some of his friends, of course. What more do you need? At the Shakespeare Pub, 14129 Memorial Drive 9:30 p.m. Sundays. No cover. 497-4625. (Jim Sherman)
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