Chris Wilhelm (from the album This Too Shall Pass available as a self-release) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘It's about the comfort that comes from knowing we aren't alone’ says Asheville, North Carolina-based singer-songwriter Chris Wilhelm of his new album This Too Shall Pass. Wilhelm, who cites Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis Presley as early inspirations, began writing songs at the age of fourteen. He released his first solo album in 2005 and has since toured both solo and with an interesting selection of artists, including The Dropkick Murphys and Takenobu. Chris has also performed as one half of The Wilhelm Brothers. Producing this latest set has clearly been an emotional journey. ‘My music has been my salvation’, he states, ‘I experienced some pretty tough things in my childhood, but if we don't face the upsets lurking inside us, we can't heal’.
This is an admirably mature and self-aware statement from a musician with plenty of depth and heart. On This Too Shall Pass, Chris Wilhelm is ably accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Chris Rosser (who also takes co-production credits), Joshua Maddox on drums, Zack Page on acoustic bass, and Matt Smith on pedal steel. Asher Leigh and Debrissa McKinney provide backing vocals. Opener “Mists of Misunderstanding” will bring a smile to your face. It bounces out of the speakers like the most ebullient of Bob Dylan's work. Indeed, with its Southern folksy, hillbilly vibe, it would be fair to compare the two. Wilhelm is far too good a musician to simply emulate, however. There is a straightforward, warm feel here, with plenty of invention in its arrangement. Chris Wilhelm's voice is understated and appealing, with a slight drawl and affecting pathos. Lyrically, he is remarkably adept. ‘I just can't believe some things that people say. Have you ever seen the sunlight or are you just expecting rain? With the questions of a child, you just might learn some things’.
The more laidback “Mechanical Birds”, with its beautiful descending runs, clattering drums, and acoustic strumming is as moving as it is lovely. ‘We run around like little ants, why can't we be still’. Wilhelm's sound mixes the aforementioned Southern Folk with Celtic-feeling adornments and an accessible, Pop-sheen. His words slip past your mind and go straight to the soul. ‘You go online, but that's not real, just to see how they feel’. Do not let my use of the word 'pop' put you off. Chris Wilhelm sacrifices nothing to easy commercialism. Rather, he possesses an enviable talent for making music which catches the brain as much as the ear.
Title-track “This Too Shall Pass”, an ode to hope, is deceptively bright and breezy. As ever, Wilhelm's words and spirited arrangement elevate the song above the crowd. Skipping, shuffling drums, fluttering strings, and a sing-a-long chorus echo the most enduring of Folk tunes. ‘There are times I wanted to punch a hole in the sky’ sings Wilhelm. A reference to ‘the ghost of Woody Guthrie’ lays bare another key influence. This is universal music which speaks to us all. “This Too Shall Pass” is one of two songs which directly address the current pandemic, the other being “I'm Still Praying for A Miracle”, a shimmering, floating track which features some lovely keyboard runs and vocal harmonies.
“This Thing Called Life” rolls easily into the sunset, a swaying, lilting song. ‘May you find hope, wherever you roam’ sings Chris Wilhelm over a Nashville-style backing full of nuance and love. The down-tempo “This Dirty Old River” closes the show with starkly beautiful piano and Wilhelm's vocal to the fore. With this set, Chris Wilhelm ought to be applauded. It is an album full of strength and heart, with first-class musicianship. Wilhelm's writing stands out on every track, exuding humanity, humour and warmth. (by Chris Wheatley)
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