El Cajon performer tunes up original music with classic rocking country style

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Cory Wilkins is an El Cajon-based singer-songwriter, and he brought a lot of straight-ahead East County attitude into downtown San Diego on Thursday, June 30, as his five-member band took the stage for a half-hour set at The Music Box. Wilkins and his band-mates appeared as one act during the night’s Listen Local All Access Fest at the new music venue.

Cory Wilkins is an El Cajon-based singer-songwriter, and he brought a lot of straight-ahead East County attitude into downtown San Diego on Thursday, June 30, as his five-member band took the stage for a half-hour set at The Music Box. Wilkins and his band-mates appeared as one act during the night’s Listen Local All Access Fest at the new music venue.

Wilkins describes his brand of music as “outlaw riff country.” Songs the blind singer-guitarist chose for this particular performance were good-time country partying songs. The Wilkins band kicked off the set by pledging, “We’re Gonna Keep Playing Till This House is on Fire.” And so they did. Wilkins midway during the set told the audience that he is working on his next CD, as he introduced a new song from that album, “More Fun.” The song’s lyrics draw contrasts between city sensibilities heavy on image and pretentiousness versus simple country ways of life that provide “more fun.” The high-energy set engaged audience members, drawing many to their feet in the standing-room-only area near the stage front.

In a quick interview after the show, Wilkins lamented the state of commercial country music these days. “There is no authenticity,” Wilkins said about most of the music being aired. He expressed admiration for only a short list of popular country artists, singling out for specific praiseworthy mention Eric Church and Chris Stapleton.

“But there are no Merle Haggard songs anymore,” Wilkins continued. “We don’t have poets anymore.”

Wilkins himself is aiming to change that. The new album he’s finalizing with his band is proof. Set for release and distribution this fall, the 12-track recording will be entitled “Train Wrecked,” and the albums original content stakes a claim directly into the heart of authentic American music — hard-living, hard-working, hard-rocking country style.

Which songs are currently his favorites from this work-in-progress recording? Wilkins said he recommends that listeners pay close attention to two songs. The third track, “Too Old To Die Young,” is a Southern rock style song wryly but unapologetically recounting the life lessons that could, and possibly should, have gotten a youthful risk-taker killed — but didn’t.  And the softer styled sixth song, “I Hope That’s Enough,” is a pensive love letter from a father to a young adopted daughter, as he reflects on her future and his role in cherishing her through it. For Wilkins, the tender references are clearly meaningful, as he and his family started adoption proceedings for his little girl in January 2014.

Wilkins blends this kind of writer’s sensibility naturally into his charge-ahead musicianship. Those two songs illustrate the abundant variety in this new album, which will capture listeners’ interest with arresting change-ups from track to track. “We intended to push the envelope stylistically,” Wilkins said of the album. Indeed, quite impressive is the range of country styles, themes and musical genre echoes in “Train Wrecked.” As one album song passage puts it, Wilkins sings “songs about life and songs about love and songs about the stuff we’re really made of.” The album touches on everything from patriotic spirit and love of freedom, to good humor, including dubious additions to bourbon (“I Want My Whiskey to Taste Like Whiskey”), and from appreciation for a bar’s “weekend band … playing guitars all night long,” to surveying the sorry condition of mass-marketed “make-pretender” country singers.

Information on Wilkins, his upcoming appearances, and his music, as well as free music downloads, can be found at corywilkinsmusic.com. More about The Music Box, located at 1337 India Street, and future shows there is available at musicboxsd.com.

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