Wisely / Willie Wisely

Wisely

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According to the liner notes on his sixth album, Willie Wisely and his significant other welcomed a son into the world during the making of this album -- simply called Wisely -- but if you were imagining that the joys of fatherhood might make Willie sound a bit more upbeat, rest assured that (for good or ill) nothing of the sort has happened. Wisely is another set of beautifully crafted pop with a vague sense of cloudiness and dread, as if Emitt Rhodes and Ron Sexsmith had decided to collaborate, and Wisely's skills as a songwriter and a producer are as keen as ever. "California" lives up to its title, as sunny and smooth as you'd please, but for all the surf and sand Wisely finds something ominous in the land Brian Wilson built, repeatedly asking "How come no one warns you...." The simple domestic scene of "Though Any Window" turns out to be a portrait of a relationship that's damaged beyond repair. And "Vanilla" is a tale of romantic disappointment built around the delicious metaphor of melting ice cream, with music that matches its tasty smoothness. But if Wisely is a cynic when it comes to matters of the heart, he's not without compassion or a sense of understanding, and his songs have melodies that mingle sorrow with a palpable joy. (And Wisely manages to find a happy ending in the closing track, "I'll Be Singing.") Wisely has also enlisted some superb musicians to help him put these songs on tape (with Wisely handling the bulk of the recording), and the final product is 21st century smart pop that speaks to the soul as well as the ears, ranking with this underrated artist's best work.

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