Michael Weiskopf is clearly a Bob Dylan fan. He’s the lead singer in a Dylan cover band (The Complete Unknowns), the one non-original track on his debut album is a Dylan song (“I’ll Remember You “) and at one point on the record Weiskopf declares that he is “driven by Dylan.” So to say this disc is Dylanesque is to speak the obvious. The question is, does Weiskopf do a good enough job at emulating his hero that Weiskopf is worth hearing in his own right?
The simple answer is “yes.” New Dylans have been around for decades. Just ask artists such as Loudon Wainwright III, Steve Forbert or the hundreds of others who have been saddled with that moniker over the years. At least Weiskopf is forthright about Dylan’s influence. More importantly, Weiskopf writes, sings and performs solid material with strong guitar lines and literate lyrics. He may not be Dylan, but he’s still pretty damn good.
It’s not just Dylan that Weiskopf celebrates. On the Chuck Berry-style rocker “Haunted”, Weiskopf lists many of the dead artists who have had an impact on him. These include everyone from Cole Porter to Kurt Cobain and Charlie Parker to Tammy Wynette. Echoes of these legendary artists can be heard in his other songs, especially the specific guitar heroes he names like Roy Buchanan and Rory Gallagher. Of course, nothing comes from nothing. Almost all contemporary music carries the weight of tradition (knowingly or unknowingly) on its shoulders. Weiskopf is just more aware and honest than most others. And on this song, he turns this knowledge into an excuse to party because of his awareness of mortality.
However, as the allusions in “Haunted” illustrate, this album seems lost somewhere in the past. It’s not just that older stars have died while younger ones live that make the newer ones go unmentioned on “Haunted”. Sadly, there are lots of young contemporary musicians that have recently died. It’s that Weiskopf’s guitar-driven rock more comfortably fits in an early era of rock and roll history. Even though the individual cuts operate in a variety of styles, from blues to folk to country, all of them are much more suggestive of music from the past than the present—including that of present-day Dylan.
That’s actually one of the album’s greatest strengths. They don’t make music like this anymore. There’s something beautifully retro about a love song like “Skin” that uses simple instrumentation to intimately address what happens to a couple when a person no longer is sure where one ends and the next person begins. Weiskopf conveys the sadness of identity loss with the sweetness of finding another through confessional singing and hook laden electric stringed accompaniment. There was a time this was the essential theme and style of rock music.
Sometimes Weiskopf tries too hard, such as on the protest-laden “19 Years Old”, about the death of a soldier from a small town in a foreign war. Weiskopf’s populist sentiments turn the soldier into a hero because he died while serving and lambastes the older white businessmen and politicians who profit from the war. While this sentiment may still have some resonance, it comes out as clichéd because we have heard it all before.
Weiskopf is better when he sings about more personal concerns such as temptation, love lost, loneliness and such. These are the reasons we seek solace in music; in the words of others and in the sounds of their instruments. When he sings of these and lets his guitar adorn his sentiments, the music rings true. It doesn’t matter if he creates the songs from his imagination or life experiences, they convey the essential human thoughts and feelings to which we all can relate.
While Weiskopf may have Insomnia, he’s sleepless because he’s yearning for something more to this life. He searches for that café painted by Edward Hopper on “Nighthawks,” and we know exactly what he means. Many of us are still looking for that clean, well lighted place of yore; the one where a person can sit alone without being lonely ,where one can sit and think undisturbed in the wee small hours. Listening to this record provides that same kind of headspace, and as the lyrics suggest, maybe the only place a person can truly be comfortable is in one’s one mind.
// Notes from the Road
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