Chuck Wicks Keeps Things Cool

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Chuck Wicks
Claremont Opera House
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Tickets – $20.00

7:30 PM – Order Tickets

Though he’s out straight juggling gigs and learning to dance on national television, Chuck Wicks is in a breezy mood.

“My songwriting buddies are coming out to L.A,” says the rising country star, who has two hit singles, a top 10 album, and a new song heading up the charts.

At the moment, though, his mind is on fancy footwork.

During the first week of “Dancing With The Stars,” he and girlfriend Julianne Hough waltzed their way into the middle of the pack.  The couple is practicing hard for the second round, which starts Monday, with an elimination vote on March 17.

Hough is a two-time DWTS champion, but it’s all pretty new to Wicks.

“I have 5 days to learn how to salsa,” he says, but if Wicks is nervous, you’d never know.

“It always looks better than it feels,” he says with a laugh

“I just want to have a decent show and maybe win the thing.  But it’s only about 3 months, and then I go back to touring.”

“The music never leaves,” he concludes.

That’s where the focus will be Thursday night, when Wicks and his four-piece band perform at the Claremont Opera House.

The singer-songwriter tasted success when his debut single, “Stealing Cinderella,” went to number five in the country charts.

The song also caught the attention of Tennessee Volunteers then-coach Philip Fulmer, who declared – “it hit me like a ton of bricks.”

He asked Chuck to play it at his daughter’s wedding.

Says Wicks, “to have a song you wrote touch someone so deeply that they ask for you to perform on one of the most special days of their lives – that is incredible.”

Learning of Fulmer’s interest pleased Wicks – musicians love attention, after all – but upon reflection he realizes his initial response may have seemed a bit nonchalant.

I said, “cool, dude – OK, let’s do it.”

“Little did I know he was Tennessee royalty,” Chuck says. “You don’t really know unless you’re in the state.”

Wicks was born and raised in Delaware, and went to the University of Florida with dreams of playing professional baseball.

But after arriving, he picked up the guitar.

“Freshman year, you don’t know what your major is gonna be,” he explains.

By the time he was a junior, Wicks had a record deal and was on his way to Nashville..

“The minute I got here, I got dropped by the label,” he recalls.  “But I dug in and got a job parking cars.”

He also worked with some of country music’s best songwriters.  Through the multi-year apprenticeship, says Wicks, “I really found out who I was as an artist.”

The success of “Stealing Cinderella” led to “Starting Now.” his debut on RCA Nashville.  For the album, Wicks selected a diverse mix of songs that reflected his own tastes.

“Growing up, I listened to R&B, pop, jazz and everything in between. I’m a big fan of music,” he says. He recently bragged in his blog about attending an AC/DC concert.

Wicks wrote all but one of the album’s 11 tracks, including arena country-rock (“All I Ever Wanted”), James Taylor-flavored folk pop (“When You’re Single”) and Brian McKnight-like country soul (“Mine All Mine”).

But his knack for tapping into universal emotions on ballads like “Stealing Cinderella” may lift Chuck Wicks to stardom on the order of Keith Urban or Brad Paisley (who he toured with in 2008).

The just-released single “Man of the House” tells the story of a 10-year old boy who wakes up early every morning to make breakfast for his sister and coffee for his mother.  He’s trying his best to stand in for his father, who’s serving overseas.

“It’s hard to be a kid when you’re the man of the house,” sings Wicks.

Co-written with Mike Mobley, Wicks says it “was a tough song to write.  We wanted to make sure to do this song justice because there are so many people who are living it.”

Wicks thinks that the song’s little domestic details – Captain Crunch in cereal bowls, Larry King on television – help people better relate to it.

After playing it in concert, many teary-eyed fans have thanked him for telling their story.

Says a humbled Wicks – “it’s mind blowing.”

Fans at Thursday’s Opera House show can expect  “a good hang.”

“We’re gonna have a good time, and we’ll do a very intimate show, maybe have a little Q&A,” he says.  “Don’t be shy about shouting a song if you want to hear it.”

Local Rhythms – Short and Sweet

I may have found an answer to the nagging question of what’s ailing today’s music.

Wordiness.

Harper’s Index recently reported that the average word count of a Top 10 hit in the 1960s was 176; last year, it nearly tripled to 436.

Stop – in the name of brevity.

In 2007 it was  “Irreplaceable,” a 552-word behemoth, according to my non-scientific computer word counter, that topped the pop charts.

You probably knew Beyonce’s number one hit as “To the Left,” which is part of another problem. Hidden song titles have bugged me since the Who made “Baba O’Riley.”

But at least I can type “Teenage Wasteland” to steal it off the Internet, and it’s only 94 words long.

Perhaps it’s the Flynn effect – the theory that each generation gains intelligence over the last, that’s behind this word bloat; a trend that, if unchecked, will contribute to global warming.

But I think it’s an inversion of that idea: the less there is to say about something, the more it takes to say it.

Whatever it is, the tunes on the radio remind me of a fast food baked potato.  There’s so much extra stuff that it’s inedible.

I know you’re probably thinking I’m picking on rappers, but this started way before Jay-Z.  For example, I’ve yet to hear anyone besides Eddie Vedder sing all the words to a Pearl Jam song.

Let’s go even further back than that – what on earth was Michael Stipe mumbling through most of the 80s?  Learning how to sing along to 90 percent of REM’s songs was like studying for the SAT’s.

Like most tests, I forgot half of it the next day.

Whatever happened to verse, chorus, verse, bridge and chorus – three-minute songs you knew by heart before they even ended?

Can I get a witness?

Country music doesn’t have this problem, which probably explains why it’s the only music genre showing any growth among new artists.  There’s no one pithier than Kenny Chesney, whose hooks (“I’m better as a memory than as your man”) get stuck in your head like kudzu on a wall.

Ditto for Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Little Big Town or Carrie Underwood – all acts that broke through this century with short, sweet, sing-able songs.

It isn’t a memory if you can’t remember the words.

Here’s a few memories-to-be:

Thursday: John Gorka, Colburn Park – Gorka writes literate songs, rooted in place and time.  “Houses In The Field” looks at the costs of progress; on “Bottles Break” he crawls inside the mind of a denizen who wants nothing more than “to buy this town and keep it rough.”  “Mean Streak” would have been a smash hit if John Mellencamp recorded it. I could go on, but you should see him and get it for yourself. Heck, it’s a free show.

Friday: Northeast Kingdom Music Festival, Chilly Ranch – Eschewing the all-jam band motif, this festival (now in its sixth year) gathers together a wide variety of musical worlds.  There’s avant-funk from Screaming Headless Torsos, the Dixieland-fueled Primate Fiasco, improvisational jazz from Vorzca, chaotic Klezmer from local heroes the Pariah Beat, and the Americana of Rusty Belle.  Two days of music (there’s a complete schedule at nekmf.com) for a modest price.

Saturday: Barnful of Blues Festival, New Boston  – You’ll recognize a few of the names playing at this all day festival a few miles south of Weare.  Both Roxanne and the Voodoo Rockers and Arthur James have strong local followings, and Bruce Marshall touches down frequently.  Add to that the Love Dogs, TJ Wheeler and seven other New England area bands, and you’ve got the makings of a great day.

Sunday: David Sicilia, Canoe Club – I have no idea what he sounds like – Great American Songbook, apparently – but his list of prerequisites is a hoot.  “Available for retirement homes, alumni reunions (aged 70+), Bingo halls, and 50th anniversary celebrations,” says his press kit.  All he needs is a decent piano that’s, get this, ”in the same room as the event in question” – gotta love humility like that.

Tuesday: American Folk Music Lecture, Norwich Library – Bluegrass veteran Ford Daley, who ran a well-reviewed workshop at last year’s Upper Valley Bluegrass festival, talks about this history of folk music with an emphasis on the Sixties, a decade he knew well (despite David Crosby’s admonition that if you could remember it you probably weren’t there).  The lecture features vintage recordings along with performances by Daley and friends.  The event is free.

Wednesday: The Panhandlers, Lyman Point Park – The large (20-member) steel drum band from VISTA, the Vermont Independent School of the Arts, plays a free show along the White River.  If it rains, the music moves indoors to the Bugbee Senior Center, but wherever they end up playing, your mind will be transported to a palm frond-laden tropical paradise, complete with coconut-sweetened cocktails and Technicolor sunsets.

Brad Paisley – 5th Gear

bradpaisley.jpgForget Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Toby Keith – Brad Paisley is the real deal, the total package. His latest is a winning combination of humor, soul, sensitivity and his secret weapon, blistering guitar power. A country star with chops like this hasn’t come around since Vince Gill left Pure Prairie League, turned down a chance to join Dire Straits, and unleashed “Oklahoma Borderline” on an unsuspecting world.

On “5th Gear” Paisley shows the everyman touch. A 16-year old boy’s simple ambitions power “All I Wanted Was A Car,” while “I’m Still A Guy” is a hilarious send-up of the battle of the sexes. “In a weak moment I might walk your sissy dog, hold your purse at the mall,” says Paisley, “but remember – I’m still a guy.”

“Ticks” celebrates what may be the most absurd barroom come-on ever devised, while “Online” puts a country accent on the old axiom, “in cyberspace, no one knows you’re a dog.”

Paisley has his pensive moments on “Letter to Me,” “With You, Without You” and the pretty “Oh Love” duet with Carrie Underwood. “When We All Get To Heaven” could be part two of “When I Get To Where I’m Going” from his last album, and continues his habit of including at least one gospel song on each release.

The rockers “Mr. Policeman” and the instrumental “Throttleneck” serve notice that for all his aw-shucks twang, Paisley can play most guitarists under the table.

In a noteworthy tribute, Vince Gill lends his voice (and dubious acting talents) to a vignette by the Kung Pao Buckaroos, the supergroup-cum-sketch comedy ensemble that also includes Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson.