A new release by Rev. Billy C. Wirtz gets this reviewer so whomped up on
tongue-in-cheek ig'nunt cracker with the blues hokum and seriously adept
piano work that, well, I just don't know whether to choke my VCR or program
my chicken to record Matlock. Okay, that's funny ... about a fifth as funny
as any signature Wirtz lyric line.
You see, this guy is hilarious. The irony is that his music is based in
blues, and it's the blues part of it that keeps him from being acknowledged
as one of the country's top ten comics. Not that he gives a testicular tithe
... to do otherwise would require him to play comedy clubs instead of bars,
and he pounds away at those bars, touring constantly.
Over the years, he’s been increasingly recognized as a standout pianist as
well as a great comic. That may be what’s made him wax a bit more serious at
times on this record, making insightful and poignant statements about the
human condition. Alternatively, it may be that, in conservative times such
as those we find ourselves in today, comics are more inclined to make such
statements, anyway. A third possibility is that Wirtz, technically, is a
blues artist, and blues does not ever completely forget its responsibility
to those who feel it.
“The Visitor” is an oddity on this record, a song that, on its own merit,
without any required reliance on the Rev. Wirtz persona, belongs near the
top of folk and country charts. It takes the structure of Red Sovine’s
“Ballad of Big Joe and Phantom 309,” probably most familiar to blues fans as
covered by Tom Waits in the ‘70s, and uses it to tell the story of a
terminal patient whose biggest regret is that she never had a chance to see
Elvis Presley, so a close friend hires an Elvis impersonator to perform at
her bedside on her dying day. “The King” shows up, does everything one would
hope Elvis would do, and leaves. Everyone is amazed and drained, and then
there’s a knock at the door, and the Elvis impersonator comes in, apologizing for being late.
Thus, it is both a thorough and a broad Rev. Billy C. Wirtz release, rewarding on more than the usual number of levels.