Imagery and themes of fragility and pain might get lost in Vince Tuckwood’s newest CD, “Grope,” beneath the electric, hard-edged rock. Except that the voice is so clear, the messages resonate and slip through, purposefully.
“Don’t ask me how I’m feeling,” he sings in “Centre of My World;” “you might get the truth.”
To understand the vibe, give a listen to “Walking in Circles,” the last track and one that sums up the feeling implied in the title of searching uncertainly for touch, contact and connection.
As in most of these songs, Vince’s voice retains a trademark sweetness, reminiscent of the vocals in his acoustic folk CD “Sparse,” never ranting loudly to make a point. No, the piercing leads on electric guitar, the heavy power chords and driving drumbeats make the point for him. Lyrics are repetitive and deceptively plain. This could be any bewildered voice — groping for meaning and centeredness in a world without a center.
Underlying the search is frustration and intimidation, as when, in “What Do They Know?” others are “laughing at me,” or when hands and gut are aching and powerless in “Painkiller Morning.”
A sense that these songs were written by a younger songwriter comes from the concerns with what others think and the desperate desire, as in “Hollow,” to be “everything” to another. In fact, Vince says that the songs come from his late 1990s band, “Grope,” a group he played in with bandmates Scott Haughie and Matt Hines. Apart from a 3-track EP, “the majority of our set was never captured,” he writes — until Vince picked up his 90s Strat years later and began — by his own accounting, “possessed” — to reinterpret them.
Though Vince here eschews the acoustic instrumentation that made “Sparse” so meditative and gentle, his wayward riffs on electric guitar and percussive underpinnings echo the best of Green Day’s rock anthems. One that comes to mind is “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
In the most down-to-earth, plaintive song, Vince does sidle up to a gentler introduction: “You Send Me Over the Moon, Brian,” starts out with a soft electric guitar and the intonation, “Did you really think I would walk away?” before cymbals clatter and announce a full-throated Tuckwood crooning, “You send me ….” A kind of chorus reverberates in the background. Not as intense as the rest of the CD, this tune — with a great solo on lead guitar — is catchy: riddled with doubt and a happy insistence on that ever-so-evasive connection to someone else.
In fact, all of these songs are apostrophes, lamentations to the universe as well as to the individual for whom the singer is “waiting for you to call me out.” And all the elements of songwriting are here: longing, wistfulness, fear and regret. And while angst dominates, the singer gets past it through the music.
“You are one up on me,” he sings in “Tequila in the C Field.” “You are churning inside me. I can’t focus.” And we feel his isolation and confusion, but somehow the wailing guitar and rock beat make it tolerable and win out.
When taken as a whole, the CD is a tour de force, with Vince on vocals, drums, guitar — and powerful accompaniment vocally on just one track: “Sheep (One of Those Days)” features Isabelle Dunlop, Mark Henning, Anne Castellano, Tony Castellano, Elise and Kyra.
With his feet planted in music, no matter the genre, you can find Vince Tuckwood’s uncommon sensibility as a rock poet in these songs.
“Grope” can be heard and purchased here.