CD REVIEW: Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll by Stephen Wrench

The half century plus long musical career of Stephen Wrench has seen this songwriter/performer wear many hats, but he’s always returned to the core love of communicating his experiences and emotions through the vehicle of popular song. He’s spent a lot of those years writing material for other performers or working in some capacity for a variety of artists/bands/record companies, but he’s putting his foot back into the live performing arena and the track “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll” provides an excellent and insightful introduction into what makes this grizzled veteran click. Instead of going in for glamorization and romantic fiction, Wrench , instead of going in for glamorization and romantic fiction, offers something different here and the other songs available on his website. This is slice of life stuff, culled from a lifetime’s experience and listening to other’s stories, and freely acknowledges that life isn’t a pop song, but it can often times be made a little more bearable with great melodies and music that speak to the heart.

“Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll” is a stirring rebuke to anyone who believes musical legends of the past had it any better than the fans they entertained and transformed. Wrench accomplishes this entertaining bit of deconstruction with direct, chiseled lyrical content that doesn’t mince words and musical backing that has a gently striding quality and a strong rhythmic backbone. The jagged guitar chords opening “Plow” make a great match for Wrench’s soulful lower-register growl. The song, co-written with his daughter Anna, quickly finds a deep groove and never lets it go. It’s one of the most rollicking numbers that Wrench offers on his website and packs one hell of a wallop. New Zealand singer Sarah Spicer does a bravura job on Wrench’s assertive broken-hearted love song “Don’t Try Tellin’ That to My Heart”. The electric guitar is never overstated, but flares up at just the right times and has a strong acoustic rhythm guitar laying down a strong groove at the song’s foundation.

There’s a gentle folky vibe fueling the song “I”, a duet between Spicer and Wrench. The lively instrumentation shifts gears at various points throughout the song and the sharp contrast between the upper register magic of Spicer’s voice and Wrench’s hushed emotion gives the song quite a dramatic effect. “If You Ain’t Been To Texas” has a great story behind its composition, but the song itself is a fine piece of classic country songwriting firmly ensconced in a long tradition – this sort of regionalism has long been a hallmark of the genre, celebrating Southern roots, and Wrench’s skills as a storyteller come through just as strongly in the lyrical content. Craig Campbell sings on “Just a Moment Ago”. The song, inspired by the movie The Reader, has a nice beat and uncluttered instrumentation that serves the song. Campbell’s singing has the calm assurance that fans associate with the renowned performer’s style and he puts the lyric over with just the right balance of naturalness and finesse. There are many other fine songs included on Stephen Wrench’s website, along with innumerable personal reflections about their composition and performances, and it seems natural that many of these tracks will appear at Wrench’s forthcoming live shows. Despite a over fifty year career in the music business, Stephen Wrench is still going strong and as inspired as ever to keep working until he’s written his best song. Let’s hope that day never comes and we keep getting music this good indefinitely.


Lydia Hillenburg

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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