As the saying goes, every dog has his day. Or in the case
of TOM WILSON, "Dog Years". On this his second solo album, the well-traveled
troubadour has come up with a gem of a record that surely confirms him as one
of Canada’s most compelling singer / songwriters.
There is no over-arching concept or grand mandate behind "Dog
Years". "This is just a collection of songs I've written over the
last couple of years", explains Tom. Nothing more elaborate than that was
required, given the strength of this material.
Over the course of a career that now spans three decades, Tom
Wilson has put together a body of work impressive in both quantity and quality.
"Beat Music", his first full album, was recorded in 1986 with The
Florida Razors, a popular band on the Hamilton scene.
Tom struck Canadian rock gold in the '90s as the leader of
the much loved Junkhouse, and then found a whole new audience as a crucial component
of roots-rock super-group Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, with whom he now shares
a label home in True North Records. He found time to release a solo debut, "Planet
Love", in 2001, while last year’s collaboration with Bob Lanois,
The Shack Recordings, Vol. 1., was critically acclaimed.
Wilson is now in top form, personally and creatively. As he
explains with typical candour, "For years I was in love with music and
in love with a lot of my life, but I was completely destructive. In the last
little while, I have been productive, and I am figuring out how to be happy".
That is reflected in the optimistic and positive spirit of many of the tunes
on "Dog Years", while others prove his ability as a storyteller and
social satirist remains undiminished.
To call "Dog Years" a solo album is something of
a misnomer. Tom Wilson thrives on collaboration and creative interaction, and
the benefits of that process are well in evidence here. A varied group of co-writers
was recruited, and the A-list musicians corralled by producer Colin Linden further
spurred Wilson on to greater heights.
Award-winning producer and musical renaissance man Linden
is, of course, a fellow member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. He and Tom first
met when they were playing folk festivals in their teens, and their deep musical
and personal empathy shines through the grooves of "Dog Years".
"I trust Colin so much," states Wilson. "It
is startling to be involved with someone whose love for your music even goes
beyond your own. It makes you respect what you do more, because someone is putting
so much time and love into it."
Linden's idea of bringing Wilson down to his Nashville base
to record was an inspired one. "I wanted to take Tom out of his natural
habitat for some of the recording," he notes. "I wanted to see him
with some musicians who didn't know him. I knew they'd be knocked out by Tom's
songs, singing and musicality, and I knew Tom would rise to the occasion."
The core of "Dog Years" was recorded in just three
days at The Rendering Plant, a studio in Nashville favoured by Shelby Lynne.
Tom and Colin later added some backing vocals and guitar parts at Linden's home,
but the essential spontaneity of the sessions remained.
Lending their talent are such legendary players as Funk Brother
Bob Babbitt, Gary Tallent of The E Street Band, and bassist David Roe (Johnny
Cash), while Colin Linden adds characteristically fluent guitar. Their approach
complements Wilson's musical mission. "The whole point of making music
to me is to communicate", he stresses.
Tom communicates via a voice best seen as a force of nature.
Seemingly spawned from the mud of the Mississippi Delta, it is steeped in the
spirit of the blues. It also reflects Tom's beloved hometown, Hamilton, Ontario.
It is raw, honest and unpretentious, primal and a little dirty, but possessing
its own unique grace. If Steeltown could sing, chances are it would sound a
lot like Tom Wilson.
That voice is a natural resource that Wilson has both mined
and gently honed over the years. As The Shack Recording showed, it is now capable
of a real subtle delicacy and soulful expressiveness. On the disc "Dog
Years", that is exemplified by songs like "Talk Of The Town"
a haunting, honky-tonk duet with the wonderful Roseanne Cash. Then there is
"Dreamland", a classic-sounding ballad with a cinematic feel. He can
still rock out righteously, as on the gloriously raucous opening cut "Super
Sun Natural" and "Little Domino".
A colourful cast of characters assist with co-writes on "Dog
Years". They include Englishman Stephan Starbuck (The Verve), American
David Ricketts (Sheryl Crow, David & David), and such ace Canadian songwriters
as Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers), Craig Northey (Northey Venenzuela, Odds), and
Tawgs (Edwin, Kazzer). Top comedienne Cathy Jones (This Hour Has 22 Minutes)
proves herself a real musical talent with Keep On Grinning penned with real-life
Not that the prolific Wilson requires help in the writing department.
After all, his compositions have been covered by the likes of Murray McLauchlan,
Billy Ray Cyrus, Edwin, and Colin James and Mavis Staples. "I just like
writing with other people because I'm interested in their perspective",
explains Tom. This eclectic ensemble of co-writers helps account for the refreshing
diversity of "Dog Years". The album is given coherence via Wilson's
distinctive voice, Linden's sympathetic production, and the topnotch playing.
2006 promises to be another hectic and creative year for a
rejuvenated Tom Wilson. He intends to tour extensively with "Dog Years",
prior to hitting the road once more with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, their
much-anticipated fourth release is finished and is scheduled for the fall. With
talk of another Shack Recording as well, there is clearly no rest on the horizon.
"My goal is to always be making records, to keep productive," insists
Tom. For that, we can be very grateful. (© 2006 Tom Wilson)