Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Dwight Twilley: “The Best Of Dwight Twilley: The Tulsa Years Volume 1” (2023) CD Review

In 1984, which was a really strong year for pop music, Dwight Twilley’s song “Girls” came out. This was a catchy and fun song that became a hit, and it featured Tom Petty on backing vocals. I put it on a mix tape that I listened to nearly constantly. Dwight Twilley had other hits before this, but that was the song that turned me onto his music. I was twelve years old, so the music video that accompanied the song also had a certain amount of appeal. And then, oddly, we didn’t hear much from Dwight Twilley for a while. A decade after that song’s release, the Northridge earthquake damaged Dwight Twilley’s house to the point where he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to live in it, and he made the move back to Tulsa. There he built his own studio and sort of re-started his career, recording some great power pop songs, some of his strongest material. The year 2016 saw the release of a two-CD set, Best Of Twilley: The Tulsa Years, a collection of songs from that time. Now the first half of that collection is being re-issued, on both CD and vinyl, as The Best Of Dwight Twilley: The Tulsa Years Volume 1, covering basically the period from the release of Tulsa in 1999 to the release of Green Blimp in 2010, along with a couple of surprises.

The disc opens with one of those surprises, “Could Be Love,” a totally enjoyable song with a familiar rhythm that always makes me happy. The song was originally included on one of Dwight Twilley’s early albums, Sincerely, which came out in 1976. That version featured Phil Seymour on vocals. The version included here was recorded years later, with Dwight Twilley on lead vocals, and it’s wonderful. “It could be love/You’re the only one I’m thinking of.” That’s followed by “Runnin’” which was the lead track on his 1999 album, appropriately titled Tulsa. This is a strong rock song, featuring some good guitar work and a lively vocal performance. There is a lot of energy to this tune. “We’ll turn the dial up to ten,” he sings here. Indeed! “It’s Hard To Be A Rebel” was also included on Tulsa. This collection contains five songs from that album. This one has a sweeter, softer sound, with a compassionate vocal performance.

Also from Tulsa comes “A Little Less Love.” This track features some excellent vocal work, which helps it become a highlight of this collection. “It was a long time ago, and it was far away/And I remember it all like it was yesterday/There’s a little less love in this world.” Dwight Twilley changes gears with “Beauty Dirt,” which has a somewhat unusual pop sound. The difference works to grab our attention right at the track’s start, and this song commands our attention throughout with its interesting percussion, its use of a whistle and horns. It ends up being a seriously cool song, one of my personal favorites of this collection. “Beauty dirt/It’s made of earth.” The last of this disc’s songs to come from the Tulsa album is “Goodbye,” in which Dwight Twilley sings, “How many times have I watched you walk out that door/How many lies, have I heard them all before/But in your eyes, a little more than goodbye this time.” This one is kind of pretty.

The next few tracks come from Dwight Twilley’s 2001 album The Luck. The first is “Oh Carrie,” a rather gentle pop number. I especially like these lines: “We all need something to dream about/And in my case, it’s you.” It’s a strangely wonderful feeling, isn’t it, knowing there is someone you can’t live without. That’s followed by “No Place Like Home,” which has more of a rock vibe. There is something undeniably catchy about this track, and it features a delicious vocal performance, with the right amount of attitude. “All the dreams that you had you’ve got stuffed in your bag/You stand out in the streets where your riches are rags/I want to tell you I’m so alone/Since you’ve been gone, it’s like there’s no place like home.” This is another of the disc’s highlights. I absolutely love this song, and enjoy it more and more each time I listen to it. The last of the tracks taken from The Luck is “Reach For The Sky,” which has a mellower vibe, a song that aims to comfort with lines like these: “I’m feeling better than I did last night/So hold on, baby, hold on tight/Sometimes it’s better if you just don’t try/Than to reach for the sky.” I sometimes wonder just how much control we really have in our lives, and if it might be better sometimes to just not try. Not to give up, of course, but to look around at what we have rather than attempting to grab at stars. “Just as long as I know that you’re mine/Baby, I’ll be fine.”

This collection gives us four tracks from 47 Moons, which came out in 2004. The first three songs from that album are presented in the same order here, beginning with “Better Watch Out,” in which Dwight Twilley sings, “The sun is going down on all of your American dreams.” That’s a particularly good line, and one that a lot of folks can relate to. I also like these: “You’d better watch out what you’re showing off/Because somebody just might like it.” That’s followed by the title track from 47 Moons, which begins in a pretty, even delicate realm, feeling almost like a lullaby. “Little girls grow up fast.” It soon kicks in with a steady beat, but retains its beauty. “‘Cause I know Jupiter has 47 moons, but we only have one.” Yes, this is yet another of the disc’s highlights. Then “Runaway With You” begins as a mellow song, before kicking in nearly a minute in, at which point the vocal work takes on a stronger energy. “We’re going nowhere, but we’re getting there fast/Let’s take the long way and make it all last.” This track has a rather strange ending. There is a pause, and then it returns to the opening. The final of the tracks from 47 Moons is “Chandra.” “‘Cause I know that you’re the best thing in my life.” Ah, yes.

Then we get another of the disc’s surprises, “Let Her Dance,” a song that was not previously included on Dwight Twilley’s albums. This one was originally recorded by the Bobby Fuller Four, and covered by Phil Seymour, who included it on his first solo album, released in 1980. This version by Dwight Twilley has a delicious rock feel and energy. “Let her dance, let her dance all night long.” This is a track that will likely make you want to get up and dance too. It features some really good work on guitar. The next five tracks are the first five songs from Dwight Twilley’s 2010 album Green Blimp, though not presented in the same order. First we get “Speed Of Light,” which is the second song on Green Blimp. This song also has a good energy, with a power behind the vocal performance. “At the speed of light/It seems so right/It feels so nice/So hold on tight.” And you can’t help but wonder if the line “Well, they huff and they puff and they blow your house down” is a nod to the destruction of his own house in Los Angeles. That’s followed by “Me And Melanie,” another of the disc’s many highlights. “Something I didn’t know, but I found out/Something I didn’t know I was without/Me and Melanie/Oh, the mysteries.” I love the rhythm, and the way this song moves. It pushes forward, while also feeling at times like it is moving downward. And check out that lead on guitar halfway through. This is such a damn good song.

“Get Up” has a raw power, particularly in the vocals. This track comes stomping in, urging, “Everybody, get up.” Here Dwight Twilley sings, “Why don’t you dig yourself a really deep hole/Lie down in it and let it all go/Or get up.” Yeah, those do seem to be the options. Then “Let It Rain” begins with some pretty work on guitar. This is a slower number, with strings. “Why, why should I try?/You’re so afraid you might see/Your tomorrows in me.” The last of the tracks from Green Blimp is “Doctor,” a good rock song with a playful sense about it. “I want to play doctor, play doctor with you,” he sings in this one, and then removes your pancreas. “Even though you’re grown up and out of school/You still might need a checkup, might have the flu.” Be careful, it might be COVID-19. Though the lyrics are playful, even a little silly, the vocal performance is in earnest, just as it should be. It’s a solid rock song, taking me back to those great rock songs from my youth. The album then concludes with “My Friend Billy,” the only track on this disc that comes from Dwight Twilley’s 2011 album Soundtrack, where it was a hidden track. This is a short song, less than a minute long, but a fun one, with some nice work on harmonica.

CD Track List

  1. Could Be Love
  2. Runnin’
  3. It’s Hard To Be A Rebel
  4. A Little Less Love
  5. Beauty Dirt
  6. Goodbye
  7. Oh Carrie
  8. No Place Like Home
  9. Reach For The Sky
  10. Better Watch Out
  11. 47 Moons
  12. Runaway With You
  13. Chandra
  14. Let Her Dance
  15. Speed Of Light
  16. Me And Melanie
  17. Get Up
  18. Let It Rain
  19. Doctor
  20. My Friend Billy

The Best Of Dwight Twilley: The Tulsa Years Volume 1 was released on April 21, 2023 on Paramour Records, and is available on CD and as a double album on vinyl.

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