Review: Dwight Twilley – Soundtrack (Varese Sarabande, 2011)
If you lost track of Dwight Twilley over the years since his mid-70s breakthroughs, Sincerely and Twilley Don’t Mind, you’re in luck, as his latest album is as richly enveloping and fully satisfying as you remember from thirty-five years ago. Those who kept up with the Oklahoman have been treated to new albums, live recordings and multiple volumes of unreleased material, but the pop mainstream long ago moved on from the magic he created with drummer/vocalist Phil Seymour and guitarist Bill Pitcock IV. With Seymour having passed away in 1993, and Pitcock having passed just as this new collection was being completed, this is likely to be the last album that retains the full measure of Twilley’s ‘70s nostalgia.
And nostalgic this album is. Not only does much of it sound as if it were produced alongside Twilley’s earlier classics, but as the soundtrack to a documentary on Twilley’s life, the songs are purposely autobiographical. Twilley sounds great, with the Buddy Holly hiccup still in his voice, the atmosphere of Sun’s slapback echo surrounding him in a luscious bank of rhythm guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, and Pitcock’s 6-string adding searing leads. He writes of his immortal days as a Tulsa teenager, his early dreams of rock ‘n’ roll, and the musical education he received from Sun’s Ray Harris in Tupelo; and it’s all wrapped in Twilley’s signature melding of Merseybeat and Memphis.
Twilley’s remained enthusiastic, even as music business machinations – he and Tom Petty each suffered at Shelter Records – sidetracked his career at the very points it was set to explode. He’s scrupulously maintained his artistic integrity – never pandering or chasing trends in search of a contract – and built an artistically consistent, if not always consistently distributed, back catalog. His musical autobiography retains the youthful spark of his earlier work, but layered with the craft and perspective of thirty-five years in the business. He lauds the value of hard-won accomplishments in the lushly acoustic “Good Things Come Hard,” reaching back for images of his early partnership with Phil Seymour.
Twilley’s melodies hold a wistful edge, and it serves his nostalgia well. His optimism shines in “My Life,” providing a riff on the sentiment of John Lennon’s “In My Life,” and when recounting the difficulties of his aspiring days, he looks back with fondness rather than ire or regret. Twilley isn’t untouched by life’s bad turns, but the scars are like a guitar players calluses, providing insulation without dampening one’s feeling. He combines the idealism of a teenager with the unshakable belief of a battle-scarred veteran, tracing a remarkably straight artistic line from his mid-20s to his current work. It’s a line that traces Twilley’s inexhaustible creativity and unshakable fealty to rock ‘n’ roll.