CD Review of Wisely by Willie Wisely
Recommended if you like
Ben Folds, Michael Penn, Mark Bacino
Label
Oglio
Willie Wisely: Wisely

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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C
ritics love him – as do heads of independent labels, apparently – but when it comes to the wider marketplace, Willie Wisely can’t catch a break. No matter how many raves he piles up (and he’s piled up plenty), the Wisely catalog is littered with brilliantly written pop records that fall out of print almost as quickly as they’re released. (For a time, used copies of 1996’s She and its follow-up, Turbosherbet, were fetching ungodly sums; hooray for digital distribution.)

Two years ago, Wisely returned from almost a decade-long break from recording with Parador, a beautiful grown-up pop record that Not Lame went above and beyond the call of duty to promote…only to see it wither on the vine. Give him credit, though; Wisely’s undeterred, and he’s back after a brief layoff with Wisely – another beautiful grown-up pop record. Will Oglio be able to make a go of it where other labels have failed? Probably not, but it’s heartening to see them make the effort anyway.

Wisely fans should know going in that this album contains a Parador holdover – nestled among its 12 tracks is that album’s “Through Any Window,” which is likely here chiefly because of its nifty promotional video starring Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly of NBC’s “The Office”):

Tacking “Through Any Window” onto the album makes nothing but sense, especially since it’s the only Wisely disc that has a prayer of reaching retail shelves – and anyway, it’s a fine song, one that fits right in with Wisely’s other 11 tracks. Once again, he’s chosen to eschew the tongue-in-cheek approach that informed earlier cuts, such as She’s snarky tandem of “Loander My Guitar” and “Loander My Sitar,” in favor of a more reflective, not as obviously hooky aesthetic. This isn’t a dance record, in other words.

What it lacks in pep, however, it more than makes up for in smarts. Wisely has always excelled at crafting short, breezy observations on relationships, and this album is full of them. They aren’t particularly happy relationships, in most cases – but hey, that’s Wisely’s problem, not yours. And anyway, who hasn’t wanted to deal with rejection the way he does in “Vanilla”: “I’m better off without / That hopeful pang of doubt / ‘Cause I can’t figure out / Vanilla / You’re melting...”

Wisely is packed with tasty little lyrical bon mots like that one, and if the arrangements are sleepy to a fault, that’s just Willie trusting you to dig a little deeper to find the big pop heart beating in these songs. It’s a brave gambit, but one made for all the right reasons, because this is a collection of songs that will do nothing but grow on you with repeated listens. If you’re the type of person who likes to complain that nobody’s making good music anymore, and you don’t have any Wisely in your collection, then quit your bitching, buy a copy of this album, and enjoy hearing just how wrong you are.

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