Wayne Willingham – Temptation Row
This effort is Wayne Willingham’s 5th & the journey for the veteran Texas artist is intriguing. He played Honky Tonks, & bars throughout the Lone Star state & gained lots of experience but the puck never went all the way to the top of the bell at the carnival. So, he walked away — until fate intervened.
Wayne was a high striker & now he’s giving his musical wisdom a second chance. Over the last 4 years, Wayne didn’t do the dive bar circuit to promote his new LPs. Instead, drew on his songwriting heroes, added stories & played listening rooms & house concerts. His showcase was at a different level.
The 30-minute Temptation Row (Drops May 13–Independent) recorded in Fort Worth, TX was produced by Wayne (guitars/vocals) with Cliff Stegall (bass/backing vocals).
His lyrics on originals are a bit rhyme heavy at times but Wayne is clever with his lines. Vocally, Wayne understands the value of intonation & phrasing. Hits his high notes with clarity & the majority of songs have pleasant pacing. The voice is a little rugged, but not like Tom Waits. The imperfections in the vocalizing are all forgivable because they’re not glaring.
“Dancing With Him,” (written with John Terry) allows his charm to come through. Wayne sounds like an older father singing about his daughter. It’s not perfect but that’s probably what makes the song engagingly persuasive.
Wayne’s vocal works — but without that extra distinctive sound possessed by many country singers like the late Boxcar Willie. He doesn’t have that quirky Lyle Lovett, Jimmie Dale Gilmore tone or frail elder Willie Nelson static, Johnny Cash or Jim Reeves power, whiney George Jones, or Garth Brooks popular country timbre.
What Wayne has is vocal personality in every performance. He’s believable. Not just singing words with good accompaniment. This is where Wayne excels. “The Lady,” is superb & none of those great singers could pull this song off as poignantly. Not even Kenny Rogers.
The 8 wonderfully constructed cuts feature tight musicians who play fluid. Andy Wood (Mandolin – “Dancing With Him”), Jared Sullivan (cello – “The Lady”) & Caleb Barnett (drums).
One nicely charged jewel is “Cresson Train,” — an instantly likable track with its vintage country approach & Steve Earle edge. Others are about the trials & tribulations of relationships. What else? It’s country music. The title track is a seedier tale (wise addition) with sharp drums & deep guitar tones that show Wayne’s diversification.
He’s not a one-trick pony. Leonard Cohen’s classic “Suzanne” could’ve been a misstep, but it isn’t. His warm slow vocals have the sincerity necessary for such a lyric & it’s not countrified. It’s approached with the emotion the words require. This is Wayne’s artistry. Hopefully, he won’t walk away again.
Image courtesy: Gary Caskey Photography. The CD @ https://www.waynewillingham.com/about