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Ed Van Wicklen may be known primarily as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of KindWeb.com, but with his independently-released sophomore effort Till the End, he reminds listeners that, first and foremost, he is a musician, singer and songwriter. Almost a decade in the making, Van Wicklen’s latest album trades the youthful idealism and musical camaraderie that shaped 1999’s Carved in Stone for a maturity that only time and life experience can instill.
While Carved in Stone was peppered with guest appearances from a diverse array of former bandmates, session players and friends, Till the End is almost entirely a solo record. Aside from cameos by bassist Dan Conway (Modereko), mandolinist Dave SanSoucie (Dave Olney) and newcomer harmony vocalist Kayla Ketrick, Ed Van Wicklen sings all the songs, plays all the instruments, produces and mixes the recordings, and even designs the CD artwork, which prominently features an image of the beloved 1983 Epiphone Sheraton electric guitar gifted to him by his paternal grandfather. Not surprisingly, Van Wicklen proves competent on all counts. But what truly blossoms and shines on this record is the strength of his songwriting.
There is a loose thematic continuity to Till the End that is perhaps best summed up by the chorus of the opening track and de facto single, “The Signs are There.” “Time will tell you who loves you/time will make you cry/can we make this happen/come away from this alive.” Van Wicklen often comes across as a kind of “21st Century (Every) Man,” reflecting on relationships, loss, and change impacted by both the current state of American society and the sobriety of turning thirty-nine. In the Hot Tuna-esque “Free to Run,” Van Wicklen admonishes that “…if you drink youth from the fountain, May a drop you never spill.”
Highly personal tracks like the tender ballad “Sweet Desiree,” written as a wedding gift for his wife of nine years, and the rockin’ “Step Outside and See the View” are offset by more universally-themed numbers like the country romp “Why,” which begs listeners to “wake up and see what is real [and to] love one another and let the earth heal.” Bathed in the muddy electric sludge of “Government Blues,” the song’s narrator decries that he is fed up with political discourse and just wants to hang his head low and come home. Where is home? In this case it is in the key of E with Van Wicklen turning in some smoking lead guitar licks.
Central to Till the End is the magnificent title track. It is a gem of a song that was written as an ode to a lost pet, but packs enough emotional depth that you know Van Wicklen truly lost one of his closest friend. Arguably, Van Wicklen is rarely more lyrically direct that in the hopeful “Live For Today.” Over a melody that will resonate long after the song ends, he encourages listeners to “See what tomorrow brings,” but to “live for today, not yesterday.”
Till the End is essential listening for fans of blended folk/rock/country/blues idioms. In addition, it is a document of Ed Van Wicklen’s growth as a musician, songwriter and person, as well as a snapshot of an artist at a singular yet pivotal point on his creative journey. One can only guess what might be next for Van Wicklen. As he states in “Live For Today,” he will likely “keep the forward pace and never turn around.”
Check out these track now:
“Time to Go” Ed Van Wicklen asserts himself as a top-notch lead guitarist in the reverb-soaked climax of this hot-jamming little number featuring Modereko bassist Dan Conway. Think World Music as interpreted by Cruel Sun-era Rusted Root.
“Natural High” This infectious folk-blues ditty probably owes as much to John Prine as it does to Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty-era Grateful Dead.
Purchase on iTunes or physical copies from CDBaby.