Waiting for the Water – Pat Wictor
‘Once in a while you get shone the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.’ Robert Hunter
The New York City subway system is filled with musicians busking for a few dollars here and there. In this literal underground music scene, one can find a vast array of music, ranging from percussion played on buckets to full-on electric blues bands to a guy who only plays Bob Marley’s "Redemption Song" at a hyperactive tempo, giving him just enough time to finish the song and collect money before the train stops. The musical quality of these performers can range from virtuoso professionals who want to practice on a platform to senile women who sing off-key and play recycled rhythms on a Casio keyboard. Subway music is a mixed bag, and you never know what you’ll find once you head through the turnstile.
Luckily, I stumbled upon greatness one winter night at the Lexington Ave. stop of the N/R line. After a long day of work had battered my psyche and left me questioning my goals in life, I found reason for hope in the sound of an angelic lap slide acoustic guitar. It was both haunting and beautiful, and I followed the gentle rhythms until I discovered Pat Wictor. A large crowd stood transfixed upon the unique tones produced from his intriguing instrument. In between the rush of trains, he doled out lush melodies that acted as medicine for my weary soul. I looked around at the smiling faces on the platform, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one to feel healed by his brand of blues. It was easily the most powerful music I’d heard in a while, and when the R train arrived, I dropped a dollar in his guitar case, grabbed one of his flyers, and went home to Queens with a lifted spirit.
Little did I know that Wictor, an active musician in the downtown New York scene, had already released a few albums. His latest, Waiting For The Water, is heavily rooted in both the blues and folk traditions and showcases his infectious lap slide technique. Wictor emotes heavily through his weepy guitar, and he sings tales of weary travelers in search of love and redemption. These are universal themes, although Wictor finds ways to set these notions within songs that vary from the gospel-drenched ‘Love is the Water’ to the grinding Sisyphus-style uphill climb of ‘Shake These Blues’ to the lazy lullaby of ‘Sleep Easy.’ His songwriting is quite impressive, but he also demonstrates an uncanny knack for transforming traditional and lesser-known covers into songs that sound as if they flowed straight from his own pen. Of particular note are a pathos-laden turn on Son House’s ‘Death Letter’ and the haunting Civil War yarn of Rich Deans’ ‘Don’t Dig My Grave Too Deep.’
Wictor has an uncanny ability to draw tons of emotion out of his music, and it is this power that makes his music therapeutic for his listeners. However, occasionally, he sings a vocal line a little too straight when one would prefer to hear the guttural growl of a 300-pound black woman. It’s but a small criticism, and it’s bound to change as he ages. His youthful voice will gradually assume the pain and agony that comes with the hardscrabble life of a musician, and when this happens, he’ll be able to hold his music next to that of Robert Johnson and Woody Guthrie without batting an eye. I just hope that when that time arrives, he’ll have graduated from the Lexington Ave. subway stage.