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Bill Wence

Songs From The Rocky Fork Tavern – 2007 (615)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Bill Wence

Nashville veteran Bill Wence, aided by guest star/background singers Becky Hobbs, John Wesley Ryles, Bekka Bramlett and The Jordanaires, has crafted a pleasing, if not downright catchy, blend of honky tonk and country soul.

Wence - who sounds like he may be nearing retirement age - doesn't possess a great deal of vocal range. That said, his snappy phrasing is right on the money and the former Tom T. Hall sideman seems to know exactly what he's good at and where to find the groove. Indeed, his honky tonk shuffles ("Angelene," "Honky Tonk Heartaches") and bluesy country soul ditties ("So Used," "Chicago Lady") are happily reminiscent of Joe Stampley's best work ("Soul Mate"). Moreover, production on this 12-song set is grounded in mid-'70s sensibilities.

Thematically, Wence's lost love songs add the emotional caveat of mortality ("Old Rock and Roller"), unresolvable romantic regrets, ("I Knew It All"), and the dreaded specter of Alzheimer's ("What Do You Think About Me and You"). Cover songs "Gonna Find Me a Blue Bird" and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" provide the only true missteps here. However, when Wence is singing his own songs, every word sounds heartbreakingly true.