Maybe I’m a bit of a Luddite, but when I first popped the Wilkinson’s disc into my CD-ROM drive, all the words I had added to my dissertation that day disappeared and suddenly were replaced by the smiling mugs of Nashville’s answer to the Partridge family. If my dissertation had really disappeared, some heads at Giant Records were gonna roll! Once I found a way to remove the beaming familial bliss from my screen, my heart slowed to its normal 84 beats per minute. This digital surprise visit was quite new to me. Usually when I put a CD in my drive I get the sounds of whatever PopMatters has sent me this month, but with the Wilkinsons I got biographies, pictures, three videos, and even a “The Making of….” video. What a treat! Sort of.
This is the Wilkinsons’s second album. They are a family trio of father, son, and daughter who play standard Nashville bubblegum country mixed with a little bit of infectious teeny-bopper jangle and that ubiquitous country croon. If you’re into “Kickin’ Country,” well then the Wilkinsons’s new CD might just be the thing to give to your boot-scootin’ girlfriend to show her that you really do have a sensitive side right next to that rebel yell, Saturday night, pick-up truck shtick that you’ve been wearing on your over-sized belt buckle all these years (even though you’re an accountant with a ranch-style, and a Ford Explorer). As a music reviewer I am supposed to have nice things to say and occasionally pander to the labels, but with the Wilkinsons . . . I simply feel that this kind of feel-good, happy, you write the schmaltz—we sing it, Nashville-industry crap should go to the same place I put mine. Admittedly, reading the liner notes and the electronic bios so considerately supplied on the CD lead me to believe that this family—“fresh scrubbed” the liner notes say—really loves each other and really love making their music together. But some people really love their little yappy lap dogs too. And some people still believe that love is a heart-shaped cut-out on a storefront window. Of course I am biased by my own personal preferences. Reviewing any cultural item demands distance, though not necessarily objectivity. I could discuss the solid country drawl (cardboard cut-out) voice of the 16-year-old Tyler Wilkinson, or the beautiful lilt of the soulful (Nashville-requirement) Amanda Wilkinson, or the songwriting genius of Steve Wilkinson (that would be Dad), but then you wouldn’t really understand the schmaltz. This CD is pure—fresh scrubbed—studio country. Lots of (very small and frilly) pedal steel fills, compressed bass, careful levels, and synthesizer backdrops. I don’t know if this is soft rock (“your at-work radio station!”), adult contemporary, or what. Country, it ain’t. But then most of what comes from Nashville has about as much to do with Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, or Bob Wills as a tamarind has to do with astrophysics. If only my life was really as simple—and as heartfelt and passionate—as Nashville’s visions of the American everyday. Alas.