t seems a miracle at times that there are people in the world like Archer Prewitt. People who struggle to make and release music of such a high caliber that it does the canon to which they aspire proud. It must be difficult to watch lesser songwriters receive accolades and financial reward for material that falls well below the bar that history has set. Prewitt honors the songwriters who have labored before him to meld talent, understanding, and ambition into song. But difficult or not Prewitt continues with Wilderness his steady refinement in the face of so much inferiority.
Prewitt clearly sets out here to create an album of songs that stand with not the only best music being played by his contemporaries (Joe Pernice, Ron Sexsmith, Mark Eitzel, Mark Kozelek), but also reflect well against a backdrop of such classic singer songwriters as Jimmy Webb, Tom T Hall, Burt Bacharach, and Elvis Costello.
Timeless pop music like this may be as welcome to your parents as to yourself, but that shouldn’t be taken as a negative. It’s music filled with nostalgia for a sound pushed to the fringes by both mainstream and indie rock. Here, he’s left much of the panoramic orchestration of 1999’s White Sky by the wayside, opting instead for a lighter touch on the strings with accents of harmonica, vibes, and pedal steel. The songs are now less forest fire, full of spectacle and bombast, resembling tall grass fields filled past sense with blinking fireflies.
He also eschews the verse chorus verse structure. Instead Prewitt constructs meandering roads that cover varieties of terrain. They aren’t made for getting from beginning to end as quickly as possible. Prewitt is making a case for traveling well instead of just traveling. Take “Without You”, which opens with the tearful moan of a slide guitar that matches itself to Prewitt’s maudlin lyrics: “How did we ever get to this, going in and out of relationships? Losing faith is not that hard. Am I getting on? Without you I can’t have it all.” As is the case with many of the songs on Wilderness, the remarkable thing about “Without You” is its slow unfolding. The electric guitar gives way to strings, and the strings in turn give way to thumping drums and an electric guitar that completely changes the song from heartbroken ballad to bitter kiss off.
Wilderness is Prewitt’s most accomplished solo effort to date. He has craftily corralled the large scale orchestral sweep of White Sky, but kept the intimacy of the guitar/voice confessionalism of Gerroa Songs. Yet, it’s important to note that it isn’t a stunning album. These songs aren’t the statuesque blond that turns heads; they’re the rain soaked girl who arrives late to the party, hangs with you in the kitchen drinking beer, and keeps pushing the hair from her eyes when she laughs. Which one you prefer is up to you.
STLYUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JANUARY 10 – 16, 2005
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-01-10