I’d not had the chance to check out Wayne Bledsoe’s new WDVX show Six O’Clock Swerve until this week and it’s as good as I imagined it would be. It’s a combination that’s hard to beat: A venue with great lighting, no smoking and beautifully decorated and made for easily making good photographs, Knoxville’s most excellent artists and Wayne Bledsoe, Knoxville’s finest music critic and all-around decent guy.
None of the elements disappointed – and I didn’t even mention the excellent sound – making for a fun, fast-paced hour of good music and comfortable conversation. The format is set to bounce between the two, alternating music with a couple of brief conversations. Wayne, Jeff Heiskell and the drummer even sang/read the weather for the live radio audience. It was that kind of fun evening.
Jeff Heiskell, former lead sing of one of Knoxville’s most successful 90s bands, the Judybats fronts the band Heiskell with a sound very consistent with the Judybats, but with a lyric sense that comes with age and experience. While Judybats songs featured lyrics like, “Don’t drop the baby, cause she might cry/Don’t touch my soft spot cause I might die,” Jeff’s current lyrics, on “Arriving,” his most recent album, plum the depths of human relationships.
Often focused on love lost, missed or otherwise not sustained, the lyrics are often profound while full of slippery word-play. In “Goodbye” he sings, “I won’t castigate your expiration date/Dyin’s easy – just another day/You won’t ever see me cry/You got here just in time to say, ‘goodbye.'” In the similarly themed “Just Can’t Say,” he talks to his lover, “I just can’t say ‘I love you’/Even though I really do/Victim of semantics, regrets/Failed romantic out of all context/Verbal viral verily I vexed/Don’t be another faded letter.”
Still, it’s more than just the lyrics. It’s danceable, fun music even with the underlying tones of relationships in jeopardy. It’s hard not to sing along with the pop-infused melodies of “Faded Letter” or “Deep Appreciation.” If the melodies don’t grab you – and they will – the harmonies and call-and-response vocal overlays will.
I’ve likened his vocals and sardonic attitude to that of Colin Meloy of the Decembrists and that holds true on a number of the songs. The second half of the album shifts to longer songs – longer on sonic and lyrical experimentation as well as actual minutes consumed. He includes a near-ballad in “Fireflies,” and comes close to a country sound in “Half Full.”
Invoking David Bowie with the chorus of “Would You Even Know Me Now?,” the album ends with the tender “Cry,” in which he pleads, “I’m at the airport watching your plane/What if it crashes? Am I goin’ all insane/You say you’re needin’ to think about this/Ah, don’t think too long, don’t be gone,/you’re doin’ me wrong/I’m punchin’ these walls with my fist/You make a grown man cry.” By the time the last sound fades, the album has taken the listener on a complete emotional journey. It’s very much worth the trip.
Wayne, of course, as the News Sentinel music critic for over thirty years knows all the local musicians and has a personal relationship with them. It shows in the comfortable rapport on display in the interviews. Jeff, of his life with a major music label, said each album was “supposed to have two singles that made drunk college students jump around.” Of being “trapped in a tour bus with twelve people,” he said the first tour was fun, the second was work, the third was difficult and the fourth made him quit the band. He said many audiences assumed they were British.
He indicated videos might be forth coming, but didn’t evince a passion about the idea, saying when videos showed up on line of the Judybats he was, “mortified.” The decision to play live was also more or less forced on him, but he seems comfortable in the role and I hope we see a lot more of him in the coming months.
As for Six O’Clock Swerve, please come out and support it every Thursday night. It’s a great venue, Wayne is selecting the finest local artists for the slots and it’s a lot of fun for only $5. If you can’t make it in, listen live on WDVX. Next up is Jank, one of my absolute favorites from the recent rendition of Waynestock. If you love that surf guitar sound, this band’s for you. I’ll leave you with a little sample of the great music on Heiskell’s “Arriving” album. It’s available at the Disk Exchange and on itunes.
Thanks to Dave Gorman, here’s a sample of the show the other night. Sound quality isn’t as great as is deserved, but it gives you the idea.