The great songwriter Stephen Wrench, a largely below the radar performer, has provided some great songs over the years to a range of rock and country performers while contenting himself with working behind the scenes and largely avoiding the spotlight. Increasingly, however, Wrench is showcasing himself more and more as one of popular music’s underrated songsmiths, a true craftsman with inspiration and technique to burn. His latest song, “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll”, is a very personal song that’s still open to the widest possible audience reflecting on his time spent around and working alongside some of the biggest names in music history. Instead of falling in line with the popular Hollywood narrative of life in the music business being one round after another of swashbuckling parties and endless good times, Wrench takes listeners in a decidedly different direction. It’s part and parcel of a talent that has a genuine knack for getting at the truth of human experience, amply demonstrated by other recordings featured on his website.
Great piano playing and drumming form the musical foundation of the track, but it’s Wrench’s weathered baritone that draws much of the listener’s attention. It isn’t difficult to believe his trenchant observations about the realities of life as a famous musician when you hear the naked emotion in his voice singing about the drugs and confusion that he and his friends experienced during those heady, halcyon days. Wrench also writes great love songs. The track “I Just Knew”, a graceful mid-tempo track with acoustic and electric guitars, features the talents of New Zealand born singer Sarah Spicer sharing the vocal duties with Wrench. Despite the clear differences in their voices, Spicer and Wrench are remarkably complementary singers and this comes off very well. “Smokin’ Tokin’ Rollin’ Man” is a decidedly lighter, or maybe just higher, hearted affair. This bluesy number with a palpable rock and roll heart gets a perfect vocal from Wrench and backing from longtime members of Southern rock institutions like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet.
“We Rule the Nation” dates back to the early 1990’s when Bill Clinton was running for President and even, for a time, was used by the campaign for a time until it became a bit of a liability for the politician in light of his own statements and personal habits. Brushing those considerations aside, it’s a rollicking good track with some fiery lead guitar and great lyrics about how the hippies of the 1960’s were poised to assume to reins of power over American life and, once again, features some marquee contributions from members of Grand Funk Railroad, Molly Hatchet, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. “You Be My Woman, I’ll Be Your Man”, sung by Matt Cook, has a slightly melancholy tinge characterizing its low-key desperation. It’s really a song about the loneliness of searching for love and the hunger we all feel inside to make those connections. The tempo picks up a little ways into the song, but it’s never rushed and retains the same feel throughout.
Wrench’s songwriting talents are abiding despite fifty plus years in the music business and his desire to perform and write continues abated after such a lengthy run. There’s sure to be more gems coming from his imagination, but his body of work and the influence he’s had over a variety of performers, spanning multiple generations, cannot be overestimated. It’s hidden talents like his that often compromise the secret history of modern music, but consider Stephen Wrench hidden no longer.