A 1997 Washington Post profile of David Wilcox asked the musical question, "Why Isnt David Wilcox a Big Star?" Well, its because the mainstream music industryor "the big machine," as he calls ithas no room for a David Wilcox. His brand of personal, acoustic folk music is out of fashion todaynot that it ever was in fashion. Every so often, a Tracy Chapman or a Shawn Colvin mysteriously emerges into the Big Time. But folk artists, traveling around on their small-gauge circuit, know that such breakthroughs are the longest of long shots in our blockbuster, celebrity culture. If one is going to make folk music, it had better be a labor of love.
Labors of love have their rewards, however. One reward for the folk performer is a devoted, tight-knit community of people who listenreally listen. They arent numerous, but they are serious about the music, and the word "love" is not too strong to describe their feelings for it. For this community, Wilcox evokes particularly intense devotion. Why?
His new effort, Underneath, provides clues, but not a complete answer. In his gift for capturing a truth and expressing it in song lyrics, Wilcox has no peer. His words are by turns abstract and full of images, linear and obtuse, solemn and sly, gentle and confrontational. He has, as they say, all the right moves. Hell spin from one apt metaphor to another within a song, or hell take a single metaphor and turn it into an entire song, shining his light on surprising facets. When Wilcox sings that a "Young Man Dies," its only to transform a metaphor of death into an unexpected celebration of rebirth into maturity.
"Down Here" evokes community. Wilcox describes people who are "different," "outcast," "weird," "cast aside," and living in a dungeon "under the radar of the status quo." But the tone is celebratory, and the emphasis is on the longing of the privileged "up there" for the fellowship the outsiders enjoy.