David Vaters is a country singer/songwriter and musician originally from St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada. During his career he has worked with well known musicians and producers such as Henri Spinetti (Eric Clapton, Tina Turner), Dave Markee (Eric Clapton) and Dan Cutrona (Joe Cocker, Bee Gees) amongst many others. He regards his influences as legendary singer/songwriters such as Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
This album, A Voice In The Wilderness, comprises two volumes and it is his debut release. It features well known Nashville musicians such as Tom Hemby (Vince Gill, Kenny Loggins) on guitars and mandolin, John Hammond (Amy Grant, Vince Gill) on drums and percussion, along with Jeff Cox on bass and David Vest on keyboards. The latter co-produced with David Vaters, who performs all acoustic guitars and lead vocals.
Volume 1 of the album consists of ten tracks and begins with the melancholy country ballad Let It Rain. It showcases David’s fine voice, which is somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. It’s a song that works as a story about a farmer needing rain for his crops, but also as a metaphor for going through hard times and the need for hope. These deeper themes feature throughout the album, with a philosophical style similar to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Running To You is more upbeat, a mid-paced country rock track with Like A Rolling Stone-style drawbar organ. It features a particularly strong chorus which is augmented by some excellent backing harmonies. A standout moment on this first volume. 8 Ways from Sunday is a tender lighters-in-the-air love ballad devoted to his wife and it’s also the first song on the album that mentions his strong Christian faith: “Only with God’s grace I begin to smile….”.
Brighter Than The Stars is another ballad and is explicitly about his faith and strong relationship with God: “Faith comes by hearing then accepting you…”. It’s a powerful, deeply spiritual song that brings to mind Bob Dylan after his conversion to Christianity. This theme continues on the next track This Cross (“Salvations coming, my work is done”) which gradually builds in intensity across its four minute duration to reach a cathartic climax.
Mansion In The Sky is a poignant song about how having faith and a belief in an afterlife helps you cope with thoughts of death. Credit to David should be given for having the courage to write about life’s most difficult subjects. This one is musically very colourful, with the rich sound of accordion and plucked mandolin.
Sixth track God Help Me Out is another song of humble gratitude about how his faith has sustained him through difficult times. Musically, it’s another organ-driven country rock song, with bursts of bluesy harmonica and slide guitar. See You In Heaven is a very touching track written from the perspective of someone who has died and reassuring his loved one that he’s still around and they will be reunited in the afterlife. This song will comfort anyone suffering with bereavement and deep grief.
It’s Time is an album highlight, an uplifting epic piano-led ballad with a powerful ‘carpe diem’ message and a magnificent vocal performance from Vaters, whose passion and sincerity is axiomatic. Musically, it’s based around a classic descending chord sequence, counter pointed by ascending string lines. The final track on Volume 1 is an instrumental version of Brighter Than The Stars, which shows the musical intricacy of this fine composition in a new light, bringing this volume to a gentle close.
Volume 2 opens with another of David’s philosophical songs that contain a lifetime’s experience and wisdom. Castles In The Sand is about the transitory and ephemeral nature of man’s achievements and how everything we do is only temporary in life. Second track Forgive is one of his deeply moral songs, about the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you. It was an obvious choice as a single.
Godly Man is one of his more uptempo rock tracks that reiterates his faith, interspersed with moments of mellifluous electric lead guitar and some rather cool vocal effects towards the end. Brothers In Need is a poignant song with a minimal but effective musical backdrop, a tale told from the perspective of a homeless man who is helped by others and by finding faith in God. It’s sort of a modern parable, an update of The Good Samaritan.
Prepare is a nice contrast, built around a Sixties-esque picked guitar riff and rich vocal harmonies that brought to mind The Byrd’s circa Younger Than Yesterday. Talking To God is another song about finding the strength to overcome adversity through prayer and faith, a message which will resonate most with fellow Christians.
Like I’ve Been Born Again starts out similarly as a piano ballad before breaking into a muscular beat and as the title implies, is about finding redemption through his faith. I enjoyed the lead guitar section that injects drama into the music halfway through. Service of The King is another single taken from the album, and its easy to see why, with a very radio-friendly sound also featuring gospel-tinged female vocals.
Resurrection Day is musically a bit of a departure, this one an exciting stomp that made me think of Springsteen’s Born To Run album. Lyrically, it’s about the Christian belief that the dead will one day resurrected from the grave at some point, provided they had accepted the Christian doctrines before they died. The second volume closes with another instrumental, with this one being Talking To God. This version allows the musical beauty of the arrangement to shine and ends the album on a high note.
Overall, this is a highly accomplished and ambitious two-volume album. In an era where the art form of the album is dying out and people’s attention spans grow ever shorter, it’s to his great credit to release a double album as his debut. But his decision has already been vindicated, as it has been streamed in the millions already. For those of faith and those without, David Vaters writes songs that capture the timeless human condition.
VERDICT: 8.6 out of 10