NASHVILLE Perhaps the hottest Canadian country act since Shania Twain, the Wilkinsons expand on their tight harmonies and infectious melodies with their sophomore album, Here and Now, released Monday (April 3) on Giant Records Nashville.
"The Wilkinsons are youthful, fresh and waiting to explode," said Doug Johnson, Giant Nashville president and album co-producer.
The family trio father Steve, daughter Amanda and son Tyler burst onto the country scene with their 1998 debut, Nothing But Love, which spawned such family-centered hits as "26 Cents" and "Fly (The Angel Song)."
"Sonically and lyrically this is a better album," Amanda Wilkinson said. "We wanted to grow without straying from who we are. We also wanted to see what Tyler was like. His voice has obviously matured a lot, and the album took on a whole new life." While Tyler sang three of the first album's tracks, on Here and Now he sings lead on five.
Rigorous touring in 1999 strengthened their voices and confidence, Amanda Wilkinson said. Her growth is also apparent as she wraps her pipes around R&B grooves and more mature lyrics.
One song in particular, "1999," about battling with a lover's old ghosts, was broached for the first album but held until the timing seemed right. Mature-content issues plagued country teen-crossover singer LeAnn Rimes with her release "Commitment," when she was criticized for tackling an issue some fans believed to be beyond her young viewpoint.
"I'm 18 now and Tyler's almost 16, so we definitely can sing from a different perspective than we could on our first album," Amanda Wilkinson said. "We're a family and people have a certain view of what we are. But we can't let our music be dictated by what others think."
The group went in several directions on this set with a number of veteran Nashville songwriters. Steve Wilkinson co-wrote six songs, with the siblings each getting one credit.
The sunny first single, "Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend" (Real Audio Excerpt), was co-written by Lonestar lead singer Richie McDonald. Amanda and Tyler Wilkinson share lead vocals on this track for the first time. The two also co-penned "It Was Only a Kiss," with Robin Wiley, a Nashville writer who has written for pop superstars 'N Sync.
Tyler Wilkinson leads solidly on "One of Us Is in Love," written by album co-producer Tony Haselden and J. Fred Knobloch.
Amanda Wilkinson soars on the R&B-flavored "Till You Let Go." "This song reminds me so much of the '70s. It's probably one of my favorite songs," she said.
Steve Wilkinson co-wrote the power-ballad "Shame on Me" with Gary Burr, a versatile Nashville songwriter whose credits include Wynonna Judd's "To Be Loved by You" and Ty Herndon's "What Mattered Most." Burr and Andrew Gold penned the quirky "Hypothetically," with Tyler Wilkinson on lead vocals. The song's Beatles-esque quality quite possibly stems from Burr's stints as guitarist in Ringo Starr's road band.
Originally named "1989," the ballad "1999" was co-penned by Steve Wilkinson before moving to Nashville. Producer Russ Zavitson suggested renaming the song when Amanda Wilkinson decided to record it. He joins Craig Bickhardt for "I'll Know Love," a song about learning from life's experiences.
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Tyler Wilkinson cements his emerging teen-heartthrob appeal with his emotional delivery on "Don't Look at Me Like That" and "Me, Myself and I." Charlie Craig and Rob Crosby teamed up to write those cuts, with Steve Wilkinson sharing credit on the latter.
Steve Wariner lends his harmony vocals as well as his pen on "The Only Rose." He and Steve Wilkinson wrote this anthem of celebrating people's differences after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado last year.
In addition to expanding musically and lyrically, the trio also take on more production duties with this album. "Going into Nothing But Love, we were a little hesitant and green," Amanda Wilkinson said. "But getting to know our producers [Haselden, Zavitson and Johnson] as people and friends has made all the difference."
The Wilkinsons have a busy summer ahead. Amanda will return to Ontario in June to graduate from high school. The three are also touring through the summer to promote the album, which includes such interactive elements as Web links, screen savers, bios, pictures and all of their videos, including one on the making of "Jimmy's Got a Girlfriend."
All three Wilkinsons will continue songwriting as well, with Amanda planning to write with singer/songwriter Marcus Hummon (who wrote the Dixie Chicks' "Ready to Run" and "Cowboy Take Me Away") next month.
"Some people chase things and are jumping over into the pop market," Amanda Wilkinson said. "But you have to stay true to who you are. We love singing together as a family, and we hope people will like our music for 10, 15 or even 20 years. But if they don't, we'll still be doing this. We'll still be sitting around the kitchen table, pulling out the guitar. In the meantime we're just having fun and playing the music we love."
Wilkinsons tour dates:
April 14; Nashville, Tenn.; Caffe Milano
April 15; Nashville, Ind.; Little Nashville Opry
April 30; Queen Creek, Ariz.; Country Thunder USA
May 5; Oberlin, Kan.; Gateway
May 6; Ottawa, Kan.; Municipal Auditorium
May 1213; Bettendorf, Iowa; Lady Luck Casino
May 19; Taylorville, Ill.; Nashville North
May 20; Buford, Ga.; Lake Lanier Islands
May 27; Mahnomen, Minn.; Shooting Star Casino
June 9; Winstead, Minn.; Country Music Festival
June 10; Medora, N.D.; Burning Hills Amphitheater
June 17; Marinette, Wis.; Country Music Festival
July 1; Hays, Kan.; Frontier Park
July 4; Clinton, Iowa; Riverboat Days
July 14; Chippewa Falls, Wis; No. Wisconsin State Fair
July 22; Monroe, Wis.; Green County Fair
July 23; Twin Lakes, Wis.; Country Thunder
July 26; Kirksville, Mo.; NE Missouri Fair
July 28; Paducah, Ky; Riverfront Park
July 29; Warsaw, In.; Warsaw Parks
August 3; Gallipolis, Ohio; Gallia County Fair
August 5; Cheboygan, Mich.; Cheboygan County Fair
August 6; North Bay, Ontario; Heritage Festival
August 11; Georgetown, Ill.; Georgetown Fair
August 12; Potisi, Mo.; Washington County Fair
August 19; Beaver Dam, Wis.; Dodge County Fair
August 31; Hickory, N.C.; American Legion Fair