Wilson’s voice is one envied by other musicians; it’s the perfect blend of gravel and sugar, and his songwriting complements it well. He can be tough and troubled like Johnny Cash, or sweet and tender without sounding like a pansy. Wilson lulls his listeners through stories of wars, old country towns, trains, blue-collar workers, and being on road with all the loves, losses and simple pleasures encountered there.
“They tell you to write what you know,” Wilson explains. “That’s really all I’ve ever done.” Damn, I think, recalling his songs about heartbreak and death, this guy’s had a tough life. “The world of words can take you to a lot of places just on its own,” he explains.
But songwriting isn’t something Wilson can manufacture. Like most art, you can’t force it.
“Sometimes I pick up my guitar and something will happen,” he explains. But his good songs don’t always come that way. “I don’t pick a time for it,” he says, using “it” to refer to those inspirational moments that will result in new songs. “It tells me when it’s going to happen.”
And “it” has happened a lot. In the 10 years that CCL has been together, they’ve produced five well-received albums and have toured extensively around the world. Wilson does, however, show some anxiety that the song well might not always fill his bucket. “It’s a big bucket there. Hopefully we can come up with a bunch more songs for Record 6 and impress people as much as this one seems to.”
Their most recent album, Wildwood, released July 13, has remained on the Top 10 on the Billboard bluegrass charts since its release. When I remind Wilson of this, his low, guttural laugh reverberates through my phone receiver.
“That record sold more copies the first week than all our records combined,” he says. But he is laughing because they are on the “bluegrass” charts. Like most modern bluegrass bands, CCL claims they aren’t actually bluegrass.
“We’re not your standard bluegrass band,” he continues, “We incorporate as much classic and Southern rock as we do bluegrass.”
Yet, they’ve toured almost exclusively to bluegrass festivals and dimly lit bars for their 10-year existence, and they have no plans to stop soon.