"The human body experiences a powerful gravitational pull in the direction of hope," author Norman Cousins once wrote. What he forgot to add is that sometimes our sense of direction becomes clouded. The points of our compass spin wildly out of control. Obstacles get in our way. Fear, uncertainty, loneliness, pessimism, romantic estrangement - all these things conspire to keep us from living our lives to the fullest and moving in the direction of hope.
David Wilcox understands this. For over fifteen years, he has been making music that bravely navigates a path through the emotional static of modern life towards a better place. With a style that The Boston Globe says "Combines the best of both pop and modern folk aesthetics," he writes songs that are wake up calls to the heart, balm for the soul. Through yearning melodies and direct lyrics, they dare us to remember the promises we made to ourselves of who we want to be. They offer us a guiding hand, along with the hope and courage to go forward . . . Into The Mystery.
"For me, it feels like when I look out at the world there's just a need for people to be talking about where they get their hope now," Wilcox says, "That's what my music has always been about."
"These days, there's so much adversity and loss of hope that anything you can offer that's on the positive side is a welcome relief," he continues, "This record goes through some tough issues and carries a stronger hope by the time it reaches the end. That hope is that our lives will have greater meaning because we have this opportunity to do some emotional alchemy. To take this sorrow and hopelessness and to transform it, and to see that it's because of this frightening backdrop that our lives are going to mean something, that our actions will mean something."
The opening track "If It Wasn't For The Night" reaches out with soothing words against the dark night of the soul we've all known, and segues into the soaring lift of "Rise," whose chorus is like a bright morning sun coming over a verdant hill. That bond with the listener established, Wilcox shines his songwriting light on some difficult issues: concern for disappearing nature and wildlife in "Last One Gone," the way our mourning for a departed friend can lead to unexpected revelations in "On To The Next," a longing for dreams deferred by domestic comfort on "Ask For More." And on the anthemic "City Of Dreams," he deals with what is surely the most daunting subject for any contemporary artist - September 11th.
"That's the fifth or sixth song I've written about it," Wilcox admits. "The first few songs reflected the initial shock. By the time "City of Dreams" was written, I had had time to do some emotional alchemy on the sorrow and start working toward where to find hope. It's about the people in that city not turning on each other. And that was one of the surprises. On a national level, there was a lot of prejudice coming back at Muslim people, but in New York City, there was a lot less than people expected. It was because there is this awareness that that's the city that welcomes all of us. I thought that was one of the best angles to remember."
As on Wilcox's previous records - Into The Mystery is his eleventh - there are flashes of sly humor alongside the serious themes. The catchy "Apple A Day" plays with a Truman Show - style scenario about the downside of a perfect world, and "Radio Men," written for Wilcox's son, looks through a child's eyes and sees the wonder of how all those singers, and DJ's, fit inside a tiny radio.
"There are a bunch of songs that have been inspired by my son," he says, "And yet they're not kids' songs. They're songs that come from looking at what makes for a good life, and what makes for a life well-lived. Because at first, as a parent, watching this little kid, you want to keep him safe, protect him from all harm. But then you realize that that doesn't make for a good life. It makes for a boring life. You wish for him to have the kind of adversity that will define him. And then I look back at my own life and realize that I can't really wish anything easier, so I have to wish for challenges that tell a good story."
David Wilcox's own musical story began in college, when he took up the guitar after hearing a fellow student playing "Buckets Of Rain" by Bob Dylan. It was love at first strum. Within a few months, he was writing his own songs. Drawing on influences from James Taylor to Motown to Joni Mitchell (she inspired him to explore alternate tunings), he created a sound that is both highly personal and emotionally forthright. "I'm drawn to artists who disclose something about themselves and let you in their world," Wilcox says. From his debut in 1987 with The Nightshift Watchman through standouts such as Home Again (1991), Turning Point (1997) and Live Songs And Stories (2001), he has consistently delivered music that The New York Daily News credits with giving "Sensitive singer/ songwriters back their good name."
Reflecting on fifteen years of record-making and touring, Wilcox says, "Music is still kind of like the headlights of the car into the night. It's way beyond where I am. I used to think I would catch up, but now I hope I don't. I hope the music stays my teacher. For me, I need to have stuff that is on the edge of what I'm learning - sort of my reasons to be, where I get my meaning. That's hard to make musical. Nobody wants to sit for a philosophy lecture. So the discipline now is to have songs that have enough juice for me to sing them well, and yet to write them thoroughly enough that they become distilled and playful and simple, and not like I'm trying to be too heavy. I want the songs to have depth, but be strong enough on the surface that if you just want to skate across, it'll hold you. That's what I'm after."
And with the help of ace producer Ric Hordinski, he gets both the depth and the inviting soundscapes on this new disc. Front and center are Wilcox's warm, engaging voice and the almost nonchalant dazzle of his guitar playing, which sounds like fingers doing somersaults over the wood and metal of a fretboard. "There are some people, when you get around them, you just play and sing and write better," says a modest Wilcox, "All of those happen when I'm around Ric. He's got a wonderful, gentle sense where the music is so welcome in his studio."
With its blend of soulful sounds and life-affirming themes, Into The Mystery is both timely and timeless music - the rare CD, that amid the glut of product on the market, feels necessary and useful. "I dare to hope that this record could reach people," Wilcox says, "I have always dared to hope that. When I was first hoping that, there was not even a possibility of it. There wasn't even a format in terms of getting the music out. There are all the realities of the business that say that very few people are going to hear this. At the same time, I let myself hope that it may serve people in a big way, that people could be moved by it, and tell other people about it. It feels great to have that kind of unabashed confidence, like this would serve people well to hear it. It's like when I get to perform in front of people who've never heard me. I just know that the songs are going to serve people. I know that if they hear it, it's going to work. That's the miracle of music, that you can communicate so much in three minutes."