Willie Wright - This is Not a Dream (2012)

Willie Wright
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This Is Not A Dream, Willie Wright’s first release since 1978, is a bittersweet project. Fans of Wright’s 1978 Telling the Truth will be glad to hear from this plainspoken singer/songwriter and will certainly hear elements in the new project that will ring familiar. This Is Not A Dream, like Telling the Truth, features simple arrangements and Wright’s ability to tell a story.

Wright has confronted many things during the 34-year interval between Telling the Truth and This Is Not A Dream -- especially challenges surround the artist’s health. Wright was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the illness has entered an advanced stage. Wright will be 73-years old on July 7, and he understands that This Is Not A Dream will likely be his final album.

This Is Not A Dream, Willie Wright’s first release since 1978, is a bittersweet project. Fans of Wright’s 1978 Telling the Truth will be glad to hear from this plainspoken singer/songwriter and will certainly hear elements in the new project that will ring familiar. This Is Not A Dream, like Telling the Truth, features simple arrangements and Wright’s ability to tell a story.

Wright has confronted many things during the 34-year interval between Telling the Truth and This Is Not A Dream -- especially challenges surround the artist’s health. Wright was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the illness has entered an advanced stage. Wright will be 73-years old on July 7, and he understands that This Is Not A Dream will likely be his final album.

The impact that the disease has taken on Wright’s body can be heard in his vocals. Wright’s tenor voice is softer, and his voice slurs slightly in some spots. Wright himself is aware of these changes. “I can feel that I’m losing it slowly,” Wright says in a quote from an interview that is included in the album’s liner notes.

The artist makes some adjustments in recognition of his condition. As a composer, Wright always favored a minimalist approach. That might explain his desire to remain an independent artist in the late 1960s and early 70s when several labels made a bid for him. The melodies on This Is Not A Dream are even more stripped down and simple. At times, this can be a challenge, especially on “Dance Floor” and the title track, which seem to drag and sound repetitive as they clock in at more than six minutes each.  Even the guitar and saxophone solo on “Dance Floor” can’t hide the fact that the song seems a couple of minutes longer than necessary.

However, the minimalist arrangements on This Is Not A Dream generally work, providing a folk, blues and 1970s era singer/songwriter vibe. Wright doesn’t need to compete with overproduced tunes. He has something to say, so it’s logical to create a project where little stands between stories and the listener.

“Jimmie Lee” is a sad ballad that tells the story of how unexpressed love often turns into a love that is lost. On this tune, Wright sings of how he spots a woman who he loved from afar walking hand in hand and singing with a man named Jimmie Lee. Wright’s voice – worn thin by age and illness – gives this track a sense of loss and regret.

The acoustic guitar-based tune “Trust” features verses where the first two lines state and restate the situation that is addressed in the third line. The problem laid out in this track is the folly of putting trust in people: “You can’t trust nobody with your money and your wife/You can’t trust nobody with your money or and your wife/Well it’s a sad situation/Can’t trust nobody with you life.”

Wright, even in his weakened state, still knows how to write simple yet vivid lyrics. The best songs on This Is Not A Dream are the tracks where stories filled with passion, vulnerability and honesty unfold in three or four intense minutes. Those that extend beyond this basic formula seem to lose their momentum. More often than not, Wright sticks to the formula, and that makes This Is Not A Dream a sentimental journey for Wright’s longtime fans and likely a worthy coda to a memorable half century of work by Willie Wright. Moderately Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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