Mark Pucci Media
Multi-Winner of Best Guitarist in the Austin Chronicle Poll Nails 12 Blistering Tracks of Blues-Rock with Special Guests Christopher Cross & Malford Milligan,
Plus a Song Co-Written by Billy F. Gibbons
AUSTIN, TX – Texas-based guitarist Van Wilks, who’s won awards as Best Guitarist for both electric and acoustic categories and Best Blues-Rock Band four years in-a-row in the Austin Chronicle music poll, announces a January 29 release date for 21st Century Blues, his first studio album in 10 years, on Texas ’51 Records. Produced by Van Wilks, who’s also been voted into the Austin Chronicle Texas Music Hall of Fame, 21st Century Blues was recorded and mixed by Chet Himes at Relentless Ranch Studios in Dripping Springs, Texas, and Chicken Run Studios in South Austin. Texas-sized special guests on the new CD include Grammy-winner Christopher Cross and Austin vocal hero Malford Milligan, both of whom appear on “She Makes Me Crazy,” a song written by Cross (who also plays guitar on the track) with Milligan adding his trademark dynamic voice. Also making his presence known on 21st Century Blues is the legendary Billy F. Gibbons, who co-wrote “Drive by Lover” with Wilks, a song that made its initial appearance on an earlier ZZ Top album.
“The new record is my take on contemporary blues,” Wilks says about his latest CD. “I have a profound respect for the American masters, and I'm thanking those guys for paving the way with these tunes. This is not a typical ‘blues’ record. But this is My Blues and even though the songs jump from one feel to another, the common thread that holds it all together is my guitar. It's just that Low Down, Wound Up, Rockin' Texas Blues!,” he adds.
And “typical” it is not, as Wilks and his smoking backing band that includes players who’ve graced sessions and stages with greats such as Eric Johnson, among others, tear through an even-dozen tracks that run the blues-rock gamut with a modern muscle, while staying true to the American roots music icons. From the opening guitar hooks of the album’s lead-off track, the rocking “Strange Girl,” to the closer, “Midnight Crossing,” an atmospheric instrumental that begs to be recorded on a film soundtrack, Van Wilks covers some major roots musical landscapes on 21st Century Blues.
“There's a Sin in There Somewhere” is a case in point. “It’s one of my favorites and is an homage and payback to what got us here,” Wilks recalls about the recording. “We used an old 78 of Leadbelly to get the genuine scratchy vinyl sound and my 1929 National Duolian Dobro in an open-G tuning provided the needed legitimacy to the track. We brought that old and vital feel into the 21st Century with vintage Les Pauls and Marshall Stacks. Then after the sonic attack, we return to the Delta with the Dobro and end the song with me echoing the time tested words of John Lee Hooker: ‘Throw Them Fancy Chords Away’!”
Another track of note in an album full of musical and guitar highlights is “Just Walk Away.” “On that song, I wanted to throw away the pedals, effects and the technology that often gets in the way and kills the emotion of a song,” Wilks says. “So this is one guitar, straight-in to a beat up, pawn shop approved, no-name amp and as we like to say in Texas, ‘Knobs to the Right!’”
Van Wilks has been a vibrant part of Austin’s celebrated music scene for a long time. Over the years, Wilks and his band have toured nationally and internationally with acts such as ZZ Top, Heart, Journey, Aerosmith and countless others. Their travels have led them on a scorched earth path from Texas to Moscow, the Virgin Islands to India, and everywhere in between. Along with that, Van Wilks was featured on ZZ Top’s Live at Montreux Jazz Festival DVD released in 2014.
Wilks has had a close personal and working relationship with Top’s Billy F. Gibbons for a number of years, as evidenced by the presence of the song they co-wrote, “Drive by Lover,” on 21st Century Blues. “We played around with the idea for years in late night hours at my house on Elizabeth Street in South Austin,” remembers. “It was forgotten until Billy asked me if I could revive it or even remember it! I sent him a few vignettes from a barely working cassette and a few hours later he played me the track from an L.A. studio. ‘Whip up some words; Dusty's (Hill) ready to give it a go,’ he said. So I put the pen to the paper and the long-in-the-making tune ends up on ZZ's La Futura. Billy came out to the studio and we ‘messed it up’ just right for my take on our tune.”
Adds Gibbons about Wilks’ guitar prowess: “Man, the playing technique Van possesses is remarkable! Great style and a very Texas-tasteful approach to a bluesy rock delivery throughout!”
Outside of his own recordings and live performances, Van Wilks’ guitar has been featured on albums such as the Geezinslaw Brothers’ The Eclectic Horseman (w/ Willie Nelson), The Texas Christmas Collection (Duet w/ Eric Johnson), Texas Guitarslingers Volume I, Double Trouble’s Been a Long Time, and KLBJ-FM’s Local Licks.
Wilks summarizes his acclaimed career thus far by declaring, “I've survived trends and scenes and stayed true to what I know and do. I don't really have any choice … playing guitar is a natural extension of my soul … it's in my blood … can’t stop this train now!”