To be Nathan Wilcox is to be perhaps one lucky teenager. Although he’s home-schooled, his parents are giving him the kind of education of which few can only dream. His mother Nance Pettit and his father David Wilcox have spent the last two years traveling across America and seeing everything the country has to offer. So it should come as no huge surprise that the title of this album is Vista. Wilcox continues to deliver songs that draw you in, leaving you to buy his last album, then the album before that. The cycle continues until you have damn near everything he’s put out.
And like most of his albums, this new one does nothing but add to his growing catalog of charming, folksy singer-songwriter keepers. “Get On” has Wilcox in a simpler format, with his voice showing his light timbre as more instruments are slowly brought into the mix. The chorus is the key to the song’s success, not a huge or large chorus but one that just gently pushes the tune forward and picks things up slightly for the second chorus. Wilcox could be considered guilty of simply going through the motions, but really, he makes it sound just that easy—as easy as the train he gets on within the lyrics. Travel seems to be a big component to this record, although “Party Of One” resembles the loneliness and solitude some treks can bring with them. This song in particular brings to mind something James Taylor might try at some point down the road—a folksy yet equally soulful ditty.
However, not all is as stellar as those early songs. A good example of this is “Into One”, which sounds much too lightweight, with Wilcox talking about the future and what children will come into. It’s just a tad too sappy or polished, particularly with the 70s-ish melody and the somewhat lackadaisical hue or aura. This fortunately is an aberration once the funk-a-folk of “Same Shaker” comes into the fray, with the track having a grand groove to it as Wilcox shows a bit of moxie with the vocals. The artist’s voice can be an acquired taste depending on the song, with his delivery on the title track not overwhelming or overpowering but enough to do the trick. Adding in some female harmonies certainly doesn’t hurt either, resulting in a mid-tempo adult contemporary kind of song. The bluesy, Delta-like swagger to “Wilford Brandon Hayes” is a funny number that comes off in some respects like a distant cousin of Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like A Rock”.
Wilcox works best when he opts for the cheerful side, particularly with the Mraz-ish “No Doubt About It”, which glides along as a roots-y, funky offering. However, Wilcox misses the mark with “Good Man”, which could be re-titled “Mediocre Tune”: one that doesn’t have one direction but is going all over the place at the same time. While he tries for a slightly darker tone to offset gospel-leaning lyrics about Jesus and Scripture, it just doesn’t work. This is instantly forgettable when he returns to his strengths with “Hard Part”, which is a tender singer-songwriter tune with piano accents to complement its earthy, acoustic nature. But this pales in comparison to the exquisitely executed “Let It Go” which, while sounding just at home in a hotel lounge, is a perfect piece of work. Gentle and with a great duet, the tune seems to be the centerpiece of the record even if it’s 10 songs in. The perfect complement to this song comes later during “Everywhere”, which has a great melody and greater, hushed harmonies. Another example of his strong chops is the impressive “Grateful For Her Beauty” which presents him alone with guitar and simple but vivid lyrics.