The musical mind behind an array of timeless tunes and the architect of the Power-Pop sub-genre, Dwight Twilley has returned this year with the release of an expansive new compilation, The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1.
Since the release of his debut single “I’m on Fire” with the Dwight Tilley Band – which seemed to anticipate in no small capacity the sonic and cultural shifts that would come with the ensuing 1980s – Dwight Tilley has been lauded as a key 1970s artist who also appeared to foresee the musical development of an entire movement and sub-genre.
It can be said of many artists, particularly those who achieve success early on in their careers, that it is not uncommon to see a drastic pivot in artistic direction from the aesthetic which first brought them success. Dwight Twilley is a fascinating case study in that – rather than disavow the stylistic roots which earned him the unofficial moniker, “The Father of Power Pop,” – he seems to have made an active effort to further engage with the stylistic possibilities inherent within the Power Pop arena.
With a stylistic sensibility reminiscent of the late, great Tom Petty, a Cars aesthetic, and a Beatles-informed knack for arrangements, the music of Dwight Twilley presents as eternally youthful. Timeless themes such as love and the pursuit of understanding continue to permeate Twilley’s output, leaving the music wide open to generations of listeners who are bound to hear flashes themselves entangled within the litany of earworm melodies inherent within the work.
But while Dwight Twilley has remained true to the style which he had developed early on, that isn’t to say he’s remained on a singular path throughout his career. In fact, after years of varying results in the music scene out west were capped off with the destruction of his home at the hands of an earthquake, Dwight and Jan Twilley relocated to Oklahoma. There, at their ranch which would come to be known as “Big Oak,” the couple would construct a recording studio and get down to the business of knocking out tracks.
The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1 – a double album collection – contains recorded material spanning nearly two full decades. The material in question is taken from various eras during which different projects were being assembled. In spite of such linear discrepancies, the collections hangs together remarkably well as a singular unit, and the material contained within functions quite well as a musical journey unto itself.
The emotive arpeggios of a tune like “47 Moons” put the listener in mind of the unique melodic approach of the late George Harrison in just one of the many Easter-egg clues to be found throughout The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1 in allusion to the profound influence of The Beatles on Twilley’s own mastery of the pop craft.
The weight of this influence was cemented for posterity in 2009 with the release of The Beatles, a 19-track tribute on which Twilley deftly navigates many of the Fab 4’s most beloved numbers including “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Helter Skelter,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” and many more.
Likewise, the understatedly aggressive guitar licks to be found throughout The Tulsa Years’ “Runaway with You” hint at the stinging lead-guitar work of Paul McCartney on much of The Beatles’ studio material, while the vocal and melody of the song wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on one of the many hit records from Dwight Twilley’s old collaborator, Tom Petty.
These points of reference are just that, however – points of reference. Twilley’s studious analysis of the songwriting greats to come before him is apparent, but the vision of the musician in the execution of his own material is fully original and devoid of pretense.
Facilitating his own musical world within the confines of his “Big Oak” ranch, Twilley and his wife/engineer/producer Jan were able to wrangle in a sprawling collection of disparate material and align the elements in such a way as to present a consistent and cohesive message while also giving proper representation to the periods during which the tunes were conceived and their inherent impact upon “the big picture” that is the overall narrative of Dwight Twilley’s career.
That career narrative seems to be what lies at the heart of The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1. Those familiar with Twilley’s early career are likely privy to the frustrating sequence of record label and distribution follies to impact the singer, along with the dissolution of the Dwight Twilley Band – the vehicle through which the musician would score his first hit.
Swelling orchestral arrangements such as “Let it Rain” sound right at home alongside dirty, swinging rockabilly like “My Friend Billy;” and both co-exist without issue in the face of the experimental dance harmonics of “Beauty Dirt.” The latter tune brings another dimension entirely to the aforementioned “Cars aesthetic,” as the sonically wonky yet indisputably pop-centric “Beauty Dirt” calls to mind Greg Hawkes work on the Cars’ “I’m in Touch with Your World” from the band’s self-titled debut album.
One of the most significant feats of The Tulsa Years is the capacity with which it is able to “table” what one knows about Twilley’s career going in. That is to say that the information is acknowledged without being disregarded, then placed to the side in the scope of the mind’s eye. This allows for the listener to focus solely on the music contained within this collection, music which has clearly emerged as a result of much time, effort, and care on the part of the Twilleys.
This approach allows the music to take centerstage, and with all external perceptions and expectations out of the periphery, it is not difficult for one to truly grasp the remarkable quality of this work. The melodies throughout are sprightly and satisfying; the rhythms are tight and danceable; the vocals are expressive and emotive; and the writing is thoughtful and well-executed.
The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1 brings together musical moments recorded over a 17-year period from six Dwight Twilley albums: Tusla, The Luck, 47 Moons, Green Blimp, Soundtrack, and Always. Vinyl enthusiasts will delight in the opportunity to get their hands on the 180-gram vinyl pressing of the two-album set, which includes a full-color, 12-page booklet featuring photos and details from Twilley himself regarding the origins and inspirations of the songs contained throughout the album.
More than anything else, however, what The Best of Dwight Twilley The Tulsa Years (1999-2016) Vol 1 presents is a prime opportunity for longtime fans to own this music as presented in a top-notch collection package, as well as for newer fans to familiarize themselves with the expansive late-career output of Dwight Twilley, a true pop and songwriting craftsman.
The Best of Dwight Twilley – The Tulsa Years Vol 1. Album Review article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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