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Vic Burgess’s The Whisper Campaign reflects a lived life
I have gotten to know a great many songwriters over the years, but there are only two whose music moved me so much I obtained permission to perform their tunes myself. One is Dave Brown. I wrote about him 15 years ago. The other is Vic Burgess, and I’m writing about him today.
Vic did something most performers don’t when he sent me his new double album, The Whisper Campaign. He included lyric sheets and I am grateful for that. I gave the discs an initial listen and found there was much to appreciate, but when I went back and read the lyric sheets I was twice as impressed, because the words are just as powerful when they stand alone. Is it music or is it poetry? Well, it’s both, and that’s the hallmark of a truly great songwriter.
In the tradition of the minstrels and troubadours of a different age, Vic’s songs report and reflect the workaday world around us. This is nowhere so eerily evident as in the first track, “He Talked About it All the Time”. It’s a ballad chronicling the events leading up to a nondescript man opening fire in the office where he works before falling in a hail of police bullets. The chorus admonishes the listener:
“Seemed like a real nice, quiet laid-back guy
If you had listened to him, he talked about it all the time.”
Twenty-four hours before I sat down to listen to that tune, a couple in Las Vegas, Nevada walked into a pizza joint and without warning, executed two police officers while proclaiming, “The revolution has begun.” Acquaintances, neighbors and relatives said after that fact that yes, “they talked about it all the time”. I’m sure the impact of reading that isn’t as poignant as the impact of experiencing it, but it was a haunting way to start off a listening session.
There’s roughly two hours worth of music spread across two discs and ordinarily the sheer volume of that much music could wear a listener out—but not in this case. There is more than enough variety in subject matter and musicianship to hold interest from beginning to end.
The tunes themselves often take a street-level (occasionally gutter-level) view of life, reminiscent of Tom Waits. (Burgess also has a touch of Tom’s trademark gravel in his voice.) In fact, I think my love for Waits explains to a great degree what I find so appealing about Burgess. All too often songs are written about life by people who haven’t really experienced it.
Angst-ridden tunes about freshman romance and minimum wage are all well and good when you’re wet behind the ears, but real life has dirt under the fingernails and scars. Vic’s music captures that beautifully, which makes it infinitely more appealing than the schlock rock one finds on the airwaves.
Burgess serves up the music in a voice that can best be described as “Vic”. He has the drawl of Townes, the depth of Cash and the rumble of Waits, but when all is said and done, Vic doesn’t sound like anyone but Vic.
It isn’t what you’d call pretty, but these aren’t pretty tunes. They’re authentic and gritty—and I will take that every single day of the week over the performers who value style over substance.
If over-produced pop is your bag or if you like to relax at night with club music blaring in your headphones, this isn’t for you. If, however, you still have some faith in “three chords and the truth” and can appreciate the hard-won, genuine wisdom belted out by a dusty old road dog in-between slugs from a bottle of rotgut then you’re going to love The Whisper Campaign.
An album release party is being planned. As soon as those plans solidify, you’ll read about it here. In the meantime seek him out online, keep an eye open for upcoming gigs and if you are so inclined say hi. He’s an awfully nice guy.