Though he was born and raised near Cleveland, many of the folks around Asheville claim David Wilcox because he blossomed as a performing singer/songwriter while playing in McDibbs. That was the early '80s, and Wilcox was a student at Warren Wilson College. Two decades later, he is a full-flowered folksinger on What You Whispered, recalling James Taylor on the introspective "The Inside of My Head" and "In the Broken Places," while touching on the ironic imagery of Leonard Cohen with "This Tattoo" and "When You're Ready."
Wilcox's voice is a soothing tenor and even when his singing is quiet, as with "On Your Way Back Down," he gently commands attention. It is also jazz-inflected, giving simple tunes like "The Whisper of the Wheels" the kind of sophistication one expects of Kurt Elling. Wilcox's guitar playing is lean and clean, but not so precise that is sounds precious. And it is the way that he fits his licks to the lyrics that makes the self-produced What You Whispered interesting. Loose, steel strings resonate at one moment while nylon ones provide ambient support for the smoother tunes. And if he wants to sound contemporary, Wilcox adds a band for an Ani DiFranco feel on "Rule Number One."
But there is nothing heavy in either Wilcox's lyrics or approach, making him less of a contemporary folk artist--as DiFranco and Wilco are--and more of a pleasant throwback to the early '70s. This glossy-eyed gaze into life and love is easy, and on occasion humorous, but a shout, cry or something a touch deeper or broader in the lyrics would give What You Whispered some badly needed substance.