You can attribute it to the current state of the music business, but Christy McWilson's The Lucky One (RealAudio excerpt of title track) probably will have to rely on critical testimonials such as the one you're now reading to get noticed at all. In these bar-lowering, survival-of-the-most-hyped times, that's unfortunately what happens to artists such as the talented McWilson, who doesn't fit into any easy-to-categorize genre and who records for a cool but small independent label such as Hightone.
Not that McWilson sounds as if she's operating under any illusions here. A Seattle-ite who found herself singing cow-punk tunes among the short-pants grunge crowd as chief songwriter and lead vocalist for the '90s roots-rock band the Picketts, she clearly knows what it means to be in the right place at the wrong time. Still, even if you don't know anything about the Picketts who in their three-album run were cool enough to cover the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," Yoko Ono's "Walking on Thin Ice" and Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" one spin of The Lucky One and you'll feel lucky that there are still artists who won't give up on the music and won't give in to the oppressive behemoth that is the radio/retail industry.
You'll also feel not just hear, but really feel the honest emotions and clear-eyed insights McWilson brings to the table as a songwriter. Nimbly assisted by Dave Alvin, the former Blasters guitarist whose second career as a producer is making him one of the true unsung heroes of American music, and with contributions from SoCal roots-rock mainstays such as guitarist Greg Leisz, drummer Don Heffington not to mention R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Mike Mills McWilson covers remarkably wide turf with an equally remarkable sense of subtlety and underplayed style.
Hard-earned wisdoms ripple through many of these clever cliché-twisting songs, from the weepy steel-guitar-accented "Wishin,' " (RealAudio excerpt) ("Every year I close me eyes take a breath and then I blow ... Seems to me that wishin' don't always make it so") to the rockabilly "Cryin' Out Loud" ("There's no regrets/ If that's what I get/ For cryin' out loud"). And while she can spread the country corn with plenty of cheek, as on the cackling "Little Red Hen" ("Yo de lay hee who? Not I"), she's just as likely to nearly take your breath away with a straightforward stunner such as "Fly Away," a guitar-mandolin number that passes for a lost Louvin Brothers classic.
Ultimately, of course, treasures such as The Lucky One are ones you'll have to dig up yourself. Radio (unless it's a mini-watt college/Triple A station) won't help, and neither will your usual retailers, who're busy racking their tens of thousands of strategically designed cookie-cutter pablum. You never know, though ... as McWilson herself notes on the shimmering "Someday" (RealAudio excerpt): "Sometimes I don't know why I keep trying at all ... But someday I'll be someone I haven't been yet." Listen to this album, and maybe that someone'll be you.