Vacations is an appropriate title for David Wechsler’s first foray into the landscape of the solo artist, a record that’s as focused on traveling as a metaphor for emotional journeys as musical ones.
Over the course of 13 songs, departures and a travelogue of locations are masterfully utilized to illustrate the fragility of strained relationships and the inviting fragrance of memory. But they are also an excuse to embrace the worldliness and emotional scope those places call to mind: the tender acoustics and weepy pedal steel of “West Texas Cold Front,” the lilting piano of “The Coney Island Waltz,” the Django-jazz sway of “Salt of the Earth” and the Pacific island refrains of “We’ve Finally Come Home.”
The proceedings begin, appropriately, with “Travelin’” an acoustic aside that Tom Waits could have set to vinyl in 1973 or 1974, back before the late-night beatnik jazz of Nighthawks At The Diner. Here, Wechsler lays down a template that becomes familiar as the record progresses, a tender acoustic crawl occasionally accented with upright bass or trumpet and almost always with naked vocals that seem to tremble, quivering as if it’s an effort to speak above a whisper. He tries it with similar results on the lo-fi “Just Because” and the heart-wrenching, bittersweet “I’ve Abandoned the Details.”
But it’s far from a formula. Wechsler spices up the record, which runs just 44 minutes, with more ornate and produced fare, from Gershwin-esque ruminations with piano and strings (“Roman Road”) to addictive, toe-tapping bar-room jaunts (the gem “Golden Age”) and lush orchestral pop (“Vacation”).
But the record’s most devastating track is the one that most defies definition. An ethereal piece of melancholia, “What You Want To Hear” sets a pace, as many do, with piano and pedal steel but unfolds with some carefully placed pseudo-percussion, white noise chatter (a touch of glitchedelica) and lyrics that are as sad and elegiac as they can be menacing. “But, who am I to tell you what you want to hear?” Wechsler sings near the track’s conclusion. “Thirty-five years, that’s a long time to wait for me/ And if you waited ‘cause you’ve nothing else to do, then I will wait with you.”
The track fits neatly alongside songs that daydream about the illumination of travel, the way the world seems less scary and more inviting from the road, or about the manners and methods we employ to reinvent home and all to whom it applies.
If I were Doug Stone, the second half of the songwriting duo behind Wechsler’s gripping work with Piñataland, I know one thing. I’d be jealous.
And for good reason.