Meredith Wilder Mesmerizes on ‘The Coming of the Night’
The Coming of the Night, Meredith Wilder (indie)
A Review by Mel Minter
Singer/songwriter Kristina Jacobsen calls singer/songwriter Meredith Wilder the “Songbird of the Sandias.” It’s an appropriate moniker, given the appealing sweetness in Wilder’s voice, the transparency of her head tones, and her irresistible melodies. But there is also a dusky darkness and a wary vulnerability in both voice and lyrics that balance the sweetness and draw you deeper in to The Coming of the Night, a solo album from the frontwoman of the popular band Wildewood.
The material could well have found its way onto a Wildewood album. About half of the tunes were written with the band in mind, says Wilder. But with the band members preoccupied with other projects and the next Wildewood recording session unscheduled, Wilder found herself sitting on an album’s worth of songs written over the last two years and decided she couldn’t sit on them any longer.
“I don’t think it’s very different [from Wildewood material], other than no percussion and no
guitar solos,” Wilder says. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pretty similar writing style. Maybe a
little darker, kind of about love and growth. There’s a lot of hope in there, too.”
The album is beautifully and sparely produced, with Wilder’s intimate, hypnotic voice and
laconic guitar front and center. The musical palette is deftly expanded on a handful of tracks with one or more of Michael Shu (violin), Ryan Wienpahl (harmonica), and Sage Harrington (vocals). Harrington recorded and mixed the album and found exactly the right sound to carry the heft of Wilder’s songs.
Could Wilder be the love child of Loretta Lynn and Leonard Cohen? Her songs have some of Lynn’s country heartache and grit, and like Cohen, she’s befriended desperation, having recognized it as a fellow traveler in the human condition. She also has the determination of each to resist self-delusion and endure the sweet ache of life.
The opening track, “Old Red Chair,” sets the tone for the album, with Wilder recognizing the inevitability of change and pain but determined to find solace in the memory of a moment of delirious peace: “The cottonwood made me think it was snowing in the spring / And I stood there in such disbelief ready to let go of my reasoning / I wanted everything to stay the same right then when I forgot that pain was coming for us all / But you can’t stop my mind from going to that place in time / You’ll find me there sitting in that old red chair getting buried in the snow.”
I won’t pretend that after a couple of listenings, I’ve deciphered the meaning of all of Wilder’s lyrics, but three things are sure: First, they are bulging with intimations, and I suspect meanings will tumble out over time. Second, they are beautifully matched to the melodies. Third, even only partly deciphered, they give the listener a glimpse deep into the songwriter’s heart.
Lyrics aside, Wilder communicates deeply with her melodies and her voice. I’m fairly convinced that if she were singing in Urdu, the effect would be much the same. Just listen to the fluttering, thready head-tone plea when she sings the word “Why” on three successive choruses in “Cold-Hearted Lady.” The song’s steely self-assessment melts under that desperate questioning.
Five of the album’s 11 well-crafted songs were written solo, with words, music, and chords
coming together and the songs falling into place in a few minutes time. The remainder were
developed in a songwriting group that Wilder and several friends have been conducting for about a year. “The whole accountability of sending songs to other songwriters kind of amped up my game a little bit, because I knew that they’d be hearing it and analyzing it,” Wilder says. “It made me think about it a little more than I usually do.”
Wilder had to write songs on a regular basis to share with the group, and she’s grateful for that impetus. “I don’t enjoy life when I know there are songs resting in me that I’m not letting out—that I’m not giving it attention,” she says. “So when other people are counting on it, and I force myself to sit down and get it done, I feel this huge release. I hate not writing songs.”
After hearing The Coming of the Night, I’d also hate it if she weren’t writing songs.
Wildewood will be appearing at the Outpost on March 5, sharing the bill with the Merlettes, the all-female honky-tonk band.