It’s Tuesday, June 14, some 48 hours after the massacre in Orlando, and the distance between the world we wish for and the world we live in seems insurmountable. Our existence is dependent on the whims of a disturbed, disaffected few. Scar tissue, from wounds both psychic and physical, hinders our capacity for empathy. America feels absurd, unfair, threatening—especially so for some more than others.
Music is not the only answer, but it’s among the best we have. It’s a salve for pain and a channel for connection. It’s a reminder of our potential for transcendence, a spiritual signal wrought in earthly terms. It always, always helps.
Today I’m grateful to be listening to Tiffany Wilson. Particularly Wilson’s debut album on WeCoast Records, See Sharp, which binds soul music’s traditions of activism and romantic catharsis to an urgent demand for social betterment. For a while now, Wilson has recorded singles as part of the WeCoast crew, a blossoming cadre that includes Grace Love & the True Loves, DJ Funkscribe, Funky2Death, Marmalade and about a dozen more Seattle musicians, singers, producers and performers. She isn’t a rough-hewn belter but rather a meticulous vocalizer, able to hang back in poignancy, elevate in delicacy or settle into intimate simplicity. She adapts her vocal tone to the content of her songwriting. See Sharp captures an important voice at a crucial moment.
“How can we be made in the image of love if there ain’t no love for us?” goes the refrain to “American Dreams.” The question resonates across racial divisions and social-justice deficits, Wilson’s words poetic and incisive. Meanwhile Jimmy James slices on guitar and Joe Doria howls on Hammond. The song is a moral interrogation dressed in dancing shoes. “The Justice” directly condemns racial profiling and police brutality, Wilson joined by WeCoast comrade Victortrey Funklove (!) on guest vocals and backed by a group chorus, chanting words that paraphrase countless, infuriating YouTube videos: “Mister officer/Get off me, sir!”
Not all of See Sharp’s 11 songs are political, but the handful that are each cast a light of awareness on the others, painting the entire album in an aspirational glow—which perhaps stems from Wilson’s early days as a gospel singer in Memphis. The love she sings of over the neck-snapping groove of “Your Love” is the romantic as well as the humanist kind: “Making love and making change/Tell me they ain’t the same damn thing.” She’s singing to a lackadaisical paramour; she’s singing to you and me. A trumpet solo sends the message into the stratosphere.
By the time “Apocalypse Party” closes the album with a call for unified celebration, Wilson has made her point. “With chaos all around,” she sings, “we came to get down.” “We” is the operative word here. None of us will make it on our own.