Van Wilks – 21st Century Blues (review)

Van Wilks – 21st Century Blues (Texas ’51 Records) review

Seriously – a solid album from top to bottom

It says something about the rock genre when one of the best rock albums to come out in 2016 is labeled “blues.” Sure, there are elements of blues here, the same way bands like ZZ Top and Bad Company incorporate them. But, make no mistake, 21st Century Blues ROCKS. Wilks is an Austin guitarist who’s earned accolades for years in his native state, but this is his first new record in a decade.
The disc kicks off with the thumping “Strange Girl,” featuring a signature, dirty guitar tone that would make most guitarists green with envy. Wilks has a knack for coming up with hooks and riffs that will stick with you, long after you stop listening. ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons co-wrote “Drive By Lover,” which appeared on one of their previous albums. Here, Wilks adds some fine soloing that shows he has his own unique style.

The record features just enough variety to keep you listening, from the Texas shuffle of “Golddigger,” to the moody “Just Walk Away,” where his guitar sounds fantastic – clean baby! “There’s a Sin in There Somewhere” opens with the sound of a scratchy 78 record, and gives Wilks a chance to play dobro, before segueing into an all-out rocker.

The echoey production and fret harmonics give “21st Century Blues” a classic Eighties’ feel, while “Who’s Foolin’ Who” is reminiscent of the funkier side of Jimi Hendrix, complete with a wah wah solo. Wilks is joined by Christopher Cross (yes THAT Christopher Cross), who adds guitar to “She Makes Me Crazy,” also showcasing Malford Milligan on vocals.

Even the later tracks on the album please, like the chugging “Livin’ on Borrowed Time,” which adds some acoustic guitars to nice effect; or the album closer, the instrumental “Midnight Crossing,” which could be the soundtrack to a spaghetti western.

A album this solid all the way through in 2016 is sadly a rare occurrence. Fans of blues-rock will not be disappointed with this killer new album from Van Wilks. —Tony Peter