David Wilcox
Big Horizon

By John McAlley

An eager, unapologetic sincerity flows from the heart of David Wilcox's acoustic music. Big Horizon, his fourth in a string of unjustly neglected albums, furthers the 36-year-old singer/songwriter's tuneful pursuit of self-knowledge, emotional reconciliation and the whys and hows of love. Although his music has its roots in the confessional folk-pop movement of the early '70s, Wilcox uses extended metaphors and beautifully detailed imagery in lyrics that are far more compassionate and philosophic than self-absorbed.

Indeed, as steeped in romance as most popular music is, it rarely speaks directly to issues of loneliness, intimacy and commitment—let alone mortality and inner fortitude. Wilcox does this with sensitivity, analytic zeal and subtle emotional force. Typical is Big Horizon's "Break in the Cup," which affectingly evokes how the capacity to love and be loved is rooted in self-worth. The clarion hymn "Show the Way" ingeniously uses the analogy of a turbulent stage play and a darkened theater to locate the role that faith plays in the hard work and seemingly unendurable passages of lives and relationships. The song "Hold It Up to the Light" advocates change, and "Someday Soon"—well, you get the idea.

This all might sound a bit too too were it not for the music's transporting melodies, plain-spoken insights and the artist's genuine charisma. Besides, not all of Wilcox's music displays such generosity. "Strong Chemistry" exposes the grim underside of dependency, while "Please Don't Call" slow burns with the suppressed rage of rejection. Wilcox is smart enough to cut his earnestness with humor, as he does to great effect on the upbeat "Big Mistake" by paralleling the awe of new love and the big-bang theory.

Although Wilcox's formidable chops as a guitarist and his warm, expressive voice can easily carry his music, veteran producers Jeffrey Lesser, Richard Gottehrer and Ben Wisch have punched up Big Horizon with pop arrangements and—considerably more troubling—covers of the Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" and John Waite's "Missing You," which nudge an already chock-full record into the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink category.

But even if Big Horizon falls somewhat short of his more concise 1989 classic How Did You Find Me Here, it is only a reflection of the outreach that has made David Wilcox's ongoing musical journey so compelling and richly deserving of a listen.