Willie Wisely has more tricks up his sleeve than people realize, much more than I ever knew. After listening to his latest CD, Wisely, I decided to check into Mr. Wisely a little more carefully. Armed with a large fan base from his native Minnesota, Willie Wisely has been releasing albums since 1992, starting with the Willie Wisely Trio — his self-described “swing-alt-pop” trio. After they disbanded in 1995, Willie started in a different direction with his solo career; a few albums that had a Michael Penn vibe to them, jangly guitar based pop but with a bite. Since then he’s moved on to help found a new genre of music called “evocpop” (Evocative Pop) which he himself brands as starting with the harmonic substance of a song. He says that the harmonic substance of a song is under-valued. He’s talented, smart, and has fantastic ideas on how to make music for people to truly just enjoy.
He’s picked up a loyal troop of followers ever since, and that population is growing. Among his fans is Jenna Fischer from NBC’s The Office, who found Wisely when he scored her 2004 mockumentary, Lollilove, which stars her estranged husband, James Gunn, who also was the screenwriter of the Scooby Doo films, for which Wisely contributed tracks. Small circular world.
This self-titled release is just a flowing piece of melodic art. The tracks stick together like a jigsaw puzzle but are vastly different in tone and tempo. The first song, “On My Way,” is a smooth, mellow tune with catchy lyrics about a messy relationship — a great way to open this experience. “You say I never asked you to/ why ask when I already knew/ I look at you, you look at me we couldn’t see/ the sky we’re standing in/ Still here we are.” Directly following is “Cracked World View,” a slow-tempo letter to a warped view of life: “We know the love and we know the anger/ Now look in the mirror, there stands a stranger” and “Every day’s a reason for a shorter season of your cracked world view.” One of my favorites is “Unfamiliar,” a gloriously acoustic bitter letter to someone who’s left him high and dry. “Tokyo Arbor” and “California” have a very ’60s-pop feel to them, very sunny and very melodic, but “It’s Gonna Be Beautiful” is a rocked up ’70s-sounding love song.
Jenna Fischer stars in the video for “Through Any Window,” since it’s one of her all-time favorite songs. It’s a very Elliott Smith-esque tune which again hosts some really fantastic lyrics. “Blue is the memory of bedroom eyes/ Green as the envy I can’t hide/ Red is the color that you lay so bare/ In early morning, through any window.” Every track on this CD is not only listenable, it’s singable and catchy enough to be hummed later when you least expect it.
After scouring the internet for whatever I could absorb, I was fascinated to learn that not only does Wisely write songs, sing songs, and score films that have appeared at Sundance and Cannes — he’s an actor. He’s been in HBO’s Six Feet Under; the films Auto Focus, Austin Powers: Goldmember and my personal favorite — on a live L.A. stage — Lovelace: The Musical with Tina Yothers (of Family Ties fame). Quite a lot of different hats to wear, Mr. Wisely, but you wear them so well. Move over Pam Beesley, here come the rest of us.