My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Walt Wilkins – ‘Vigil’

Texas based singer-songwriter Walt Wilkins released this album last year, but it escaped my notice at the time. Vigil is a real labor of love, whose making was funded by an anonymous benefactor and whose profits are all being devoted to charity (the Longevity Foundation). More Americana than conventional country, this reveals a Texas troubadour at his most reflective, armed with a rough voice and a poet’s soul. The concept is more formed than on most inspirational records, in that it is built around a night vigil, not quite a dark night of the soul but one involving doubt as well as faith, and perhaps all the more deeply rooted for that, and conveying longing rather than preaching. As a spiritual exercise it is more effective than many more straightforward declarations of faith.

Opening track ‘Be Home Soon’, written by Sam Baker, is the only song not written or co-written by Wilkins himself, but sets the stage perfectly as it depicts the tired narrator on his way home late at night, ready for the night vigil whose concept frames Walt’s own songs. The first of these, written with regular collaborators Liz Rose (best known these days for her work with Taylor Swift) and Davis Raines (credited on the liner notes as ‘This Is All I Know’ , although the lyrics sung appear to be ‘That’s All I Know’) sets out the minutiae of everyday life for a simple man (“life is hard and it hurts sometimes but it proves I’m alive”).

It is followed by my favorite song on the record, written with Ray Stephenson, the arresting plea to ‘Dear God’ as a troubled Walt has some questions for God, such as where he is when bad things happen:

Are you even listening to the words I’m saying?
Give me a sign, just a sign that you can even hear me praying
When you look around do you tremble now at what you see?
Is loving my brother all you really want from me?
If I’m made in your image, is this all that I’ll ever be?

And if you’re in the thunder I wonder when you’ll roll through me

It has some tasteful female harmony vocals and ends with a woman chanting ”Kingdom Come”, which looks ahead to the song of that title, another prayer in song. The lovely sounding but less memorable ‘Grace Is Sleeping’, a slow quiet song with brooding strings, separates the two. ‘Kingdom Come’ is a little more urgent in its longing for salvation, with banked backing vocals:

Save me save my child save us all
We’ve strayed way past the sound of your call
Waters are rising, the cold wind howls
You can save us, save us now
Kingdom come, kingdom come

‘Healing Waters, Fields Of Grace’ is a tired expression of longing for peace:

There’s a lonely church bell ringing
Heaven’s never felt so far
I never thought my blood could run so cold
Or my heart could feel so hard

I shiver at the thought
How we got so far away
Hard to know what to do
And harder still to pray
I won’t hope and I won’t heal
I want love (loving) and nothing less
And I wanna lay my body down
And find some rest

The mood then changes to a more secular, and optimistic one. ‘Gypsy Line’ is a very good, if relatively conventional, semi-spoken look at travelling troubadors’ lives, referring by name to various individuals. It is co-written with Gilles Godard and someone whose name is unreadable thanks to the handwriting-effect font chosen for the liner notes. The low-key but soulful gospel sound of the lovely ‘I’ll See You On the Other Side’ opens a cappella and is a touching address to a dying loved one, sounding like a traditional song, although it is another new composition from Walt, Liz Rose and Davis Raines.

‘Trains I Missed’, written with Gilles Godard and Davis Raines, looks back at past life decisions appropriately set to a chugging train rhythm; one might call it a spiritual rewrite of ‘Bless The Broken Road’.  This song previously appeared on Walt’s 2008 album with the Mystiqueros, Diamonds In The Sun. ‘You’re Always Safe With Me’ is a father’s lullaby, spare but tender, which Walt wrote with Monte Warden.

‘More Like The River’ poetically discusses various similes for the nature of love and is another song I like a great deal:

Love is more like April than July

A restless spirit growing wild

Less like the moon and stars than the whole damn sky

Love is more like April than July

Love is more like a gift than a bribe

It tangles and it ties

It lives by the truth or it dies

Love is more a gift than a bribe

Although it is not one of my favorites here, ‘Someone Somewhere Tonight’ is another quietly insightful look at life, taking snapshots of those experiencing the full gamut of emotions at any given moment, ranging from those experiencing their first kiss to the last rites or desperate in prayer.

‘The Songs I’ve Sung’ is a cheerful sounding musician’s testament in song, co-written with Billy Montana:

Luke can have my guitar
Ray can have my truck, he’s good with cars
The band can divide my clothes
And I hope the angels come to get my soul

At the end of this life that I’ve been given
After the prayers and the bells are rung
I ain’t afraid of where I’m going
What’ll become of the songs I’ve sung?
What’ll become of the songs I’ve sung?

I’ve never owned a house or a piece of land
I never made too much with these two hands
Except the sound that came from these six strings
And when that’s who you are
That’s everything

The end of this vigil is marked by the last-credited track, the optimistic dawn-set ‘First Light’, another collaboration with Billy Montana.

The hidden track which closes out the set, the engaging bluesy mid-tempo ‘So Lucky’ (co-written with Monte Warden) has the protagonist counting his blessings and sounds like an end-of-session jam. I don’t normally see the point of hidden tracks, but here it feels appropriate.

It is a very low key, quiet record, with songs which are beautiful and thoughtful, and the sequencing is perfect. It is a very mature piece of work with an emotional and spiritual honesty which resonates very strongly with me.

Grade: A-

‘Gypsy Line’ and ‘More Like The River’ are streamed on Walt’s myspace page.

The record isn’t all that easy to find, but is worth seeking out.

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One response to “Album Review: Walt Wilkins – ‘Vigil’

  1. Linda Kiecker February 26, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Great songs!! Mike and I like to kick back, relax, have a glass or two of wine and listen to Walt. He’s like an old familiar friend when he sings to us!!

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