DAVE DAVIES, host:
Dwight Twilley is a Tulsa, Oklahoma-born rock and roller who came to prominence in 1970s Los Angeles. His group, the Dwight Twilley Band, scored its biggest hit, the single "I'm on Fire" in 1975, and then struggled for years to achieve stardom, but never quite got there. Now Twilley is back with a new album called "Green Blimp."
Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(Soundbite of song "Speed of Light")
Mr. DWIGHT TWILLEY (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) When the sky is falling and nobody tells you, you're going to need a bigger umbrella. That's right at the speed of light.
KEN TUCKER: When Dwight Twilley staked his claim on pop stardom in 1975, he was already an anomaly. The Los Angeles to which he'd relocated from Tulsa, Oklahoma was about to go gaga over melodic punk from the likes of The Runaways. The Sex Pistols in England and The Ramones in New York were seeking to disrupt the very mainstream that Twilley held dear.
Like a pop version of John Fogerty, Dwight Twilley is his own kind of roots rocker - for whom the continuum in guitar-based music from the 1950s to the present remains seamless. It's sometimes hermetic, sometimes sealed off from innovation, but when he hits a groove in a fast song or in his version of a power ballad, such as this one, "You Were Always There," he really digs deep and gets traction on a song's emotion.
(Soundbite of song "You Were Always There")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) When I was down, you were always by my side. When I was broke, you would always save your dimes. But in the golden light, I know I was all right because of you. You were always there. You let in the air. You were always there. The love I have for you...
TUCKER: The title song, "Green Blimp," is an airy metaphor for the state of bliss and freedom from worry that the singer wishes to attain. With its sing-along chorus and mid-tempo harmonies, "Green Blimp" is Dwight Twilley's "Yellow Submarine."
(Soundbite of song "Green Blimp")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) In the green blimp where I live, life is happy where I live in the green blimp. Through the white clouds...
TUCKER: Twilley has reached the age in his late 50s to have some regrets and some second guesses. There are times when he must look around at contemporaries such as Tom Petty, who sang background vocals on a few of Twilley's early recordings, and wonder: Why couldn't I have gotten to where he did? It didn't help that Twilley's key collaborator, Phil Seymour - also a first-rate pop-rock artist - split from The Dwight Twilley Band in 1978, and died in 1993.
(Soundbite of song "It Ends")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) The person that you've known so long and a timeless friend. The silhouette so far, this close, the way that they were then. And it ends. And it ends, just like it begins, where the ice is so thin.
TUCKER: That's a terrific song on the new album, called "It Ends," that just builds and builds in intensity as it proceeds. Twilley invariably presents himself as a glass-half-full kind of guy. More importantly for the health of his music, he's not a cranky nostalgist. For him, the past is the past, which is the theme of one of the album's best songs, "It's Never Coming Back," with its beautiful hammered keyboard opening verse.
(Soundbite of song "It's Never Coming Back")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) The choices were made for good or for bad, things that you reach for, the dreams that you had. We all want it all to last, but only fools can wish for that. 'Cause it's never ever, it's never coming back.
TUCKER: The current business model for pop music actually favors Dwight Twilley these days. Freed from the pressure of trying to get a major label deal, he's released "Green Blimp" as a download or in as-needed CD batches. He uses Facebook to raise funds for financing the album and getting the word out.
(Soundbite of song "Doctor")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) Your little sister's outside playing jacks. Don't wanna spin the bottle, that's that. I want to play doctor, play doctor with you. I want to play doctor...
TUCKER: Twilley has reunited with the original Dwight Twilley Band guitarist Bill Pitcock IV, and gets some vocal assistance from Susan Cowsill. But "Green Blimp" ultimately sounds most like Dwight Twilley sitting in his Tulsa recording studio, hearing the history of rock 'n' roll in his head and doing what he's done for decades: shaping that history into hooks and riffs and passionately yelled vocals that convey the ceaseless thrill of feeling the freedom that remains the great promise of this kind of rock 'n' roll.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Dwight Twilley's new album "Green Blimp." You can hear three tracks from the album at our website, freshair.npr.org.
(Soundbite of song "Ten Times")
Mr. TWILLEY: (Singing) Ten times I tapped on your window, ten times, oh, you closed your blinds. Ten times, ten times, I counted ten times. I wake up at night thinking of you and I wonder, do you think of me too?
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