Listening to George Wirth has always been a Sunday morning pleasure. His writing has a comfortable, homegrown pace with reflections of tradition and yesteryear vitality that beam across his platters like charged particles from the aurora borealis itself. His narrative point flashes polar-lit displays of emotion and ionospheric tales of life lessons learned through blood, sweat and tears.
Wirth doesn’t shy way from his heroes and they’re obvious on his latest disc, titled The Last Good Kiss. Springsteen and Dylan give organic way to Warren Zevon phrasing and Levon Helm delivery. These influential greats all come gloriously to mind when listening to Wirth chugging down the gritty tracks of his vagabond existence. Like any good engineer, his choice of top-shelf conductors is key to a great musical journey, adding coal smoke essence of the past with the modern day streamlined style that these journeymen bring to the table.
Made up of 14 songs, The Last Good Kiss features portrait performances by resonator queen Abbie Gardner, who graces two songs, and Amanda Shires, who soothes the soul on another pair. Add in the lush vocal viewpoint of Janey Todd and the backwoods Dobro of Jim McCarthy and you’ve got a serious grouping of talent pulled along by the engine of Wirths back porch delivery.
The Last Good Kiss is George Wirth’s second full-length release and his finest achievement to date. At 64, George Wirth has spent only a quarter of his life in the professional arena, but his magnetic sound has caught up to and surpassed most other writers in record time, culling from a lifetime of elation and quiet desperation of the everyday man.
His previous releases include The Lights Of Brigantine (2006) and the song “Eisenhower Summer, 1952,” was published in Sing Out magazine and included on the CD from that particular issue. Another song, “Old Dancing Fool,” was recorded by Red Molly and appears on their Love And Other Tragedies CD George has also received numerous Asbury Park Music Award nominations, including Top Male Acoustic, Best Local Release and Best Song. George is the winner of the 2010 Asbury Music Award in the Top Male Acoustic category, and has also won the Jersey Acoustic Musicians Award for Top Male Songwriter and Album of the Year for both 2010 and 2011.
Wirth covers a lot of ground on The Last Good Kiss, visiting everything from sheer toughness and survival on the rebellious opening track, “I Will Not Go Down Easily This Time” to the reflective spirituality on “Weight Of Sin.” Wirth is a master here, focusing the listener with his intense viewpoint. Words of ‘Wirthdom’ such as, “This world will keep you guessing and the road will take its toll, the residue of living will leave its mark upon you’re soul” really leave you to ponder your existence through the message of this stark faith healer that sums up with, “And when I see myself reflected, in your eyes I’m resurrected, and I swear I feel, a little lighter in my shoes.”
CD title cut, “The Last Good Kiss” has been this critic’s favorite since its release. Amanda Shire’s fiddle supplies beautiful, sad melody as Wirth strums acoustic, telling the tale of the good thing left behind. Filled with the solitary thoughts of missed opportunities and memories of the last real chance at love given to a man lost in a personal haze of habit and the regret that follows. Bittersweet recollections mix with the sad realization that sometimes, no matter what you may have to lose, a man just can’t change the road he is on.
My favorite cut on the disk is the beautifully crafted “Make You My Home.” Featuring the warm and emotional resonator stylings of Abbie Gardner (Red Molly). This is the standout performance of the gentleman farmer I’ve known Wirth to be. Gardner’s playing can bring tears to the eyes of anyone caught in her mellow-toned path. Soulful and country melodic, Gardner pushes Wirth’s storytelling ramble to the forefront, shimmering in the background until she quietly steps up for the beautiful and desolate road worn chorus. Acoustic guitars weave lush chordal tapestries and harmonies sooth the very soul on this reflective gem.
Wirth’s vocal is effective and straight to the point on the Janey Todd composition “Dreamland.” George’s voice is poignantly weary as he sings, “I drove home another nail, in my coffin today. Shiny steel politely waiting to take me away.” Lyrics that I’m quoting are some of the smartest I’ve heard and are a joy to share. Jim McCarthy’s resonator sighs and groans with timeworn, wooden tones as screeching calloused string rubs chirp up and down neck with rhythmic soul. Janey Todd’s vocal slides in from left field, adding a beautiful contrast and honey-smooth harmony to the patented Wirth rasp. The pair sounds perfect together in a Lucinda Williams/Steve Forbert styling.
The realization of loneliness, escape and hope for something better on “Water On Water” kicks off with the line, “It’s rainin’ down like bullets, goin’ on two weeks, this house might make it, if she don’t spring a leak.” Reminiscent of “Highway Patrolman” by Springsteen, “Water On Water” is a beautiful and isolated focus on getting out of a flood-ravaged town somewhere in the mind of everyone that’s looking to start over in a life that’s just never going to work out for them.
The shuffling two-step feel of “Memorial Drive” encompasses many of our local heroes and zeros faring better and worse on the Asbury Park battlefield. Tales of lonesome poets, race wars, broken ribs and busted guitars make way for the winners, losers and characters that keep this town on the lips of everyone from waitresses to rock stars. I like Wirth’s no nonsense approach on gentrification, and the movie-like dramas that are played out daily in a town used to “death by misadventure, down on Memorial Drive.”
Wirth’s humble tone is perfectly matched with his compositional vision on this disk, pushing breathy vocal guidance at the listener’s sensibilities with the nonchalance of a man waving at you to come sit on the stoop. Think about Springsteen’s Nebraska, and the imagery it exudes and you‘ll get the picture of where Wirth is going here. Wirth is soft but bell clear with his tone and it works as the focus throughout. He never rushes a chorus or short changes the listener in a verse on The Last Good Kiss.
Taking his time, he patiently builds his song, demonstrating his knack for lyrical story setup, chord progression choice and his soft, semi-gruff voice. There’s nothing worse than having to decipher lyrics and meaning from a song too junked up with stuff to have those key ingredients stand out. No worries about that here, as production is crisp and the focus is on Wirth’s worthy words of wisdom. Say that fast 10 times.
The Last Good Kiss is a heartfelt collection of stylish recollections from the mind of a musician that has witnessed the glory and tragedy of our fleeting human existence, and in the end, makes it all right to still be here and living in his own hard-earned way. It is the everyday dance of life and the outcome of all our choices, both good and bad, on this fast-moving stage we call life.
Pick up this great American disk to hear to the rest of the songs I didn’t have room to list here. Catch George on April 27 at The Saint’s Asbury Cafe Presentation featuring, from Nashville, TN, Amanda Shires, George Wirth and Joe Miller. For more info on purchasing The Last Good Kiss, head over to georgewirth.net.