Adam Wilcox steps away from the mic on 'Songs for My Friends to Sing' 

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Rochester musician Adam Wilcox has played in bands since he was 12. He’s still active in groups such as Prog Gnostic and Sub Sentry. But he’s almost always been “the other songwriter in the band,” he said over a cup of tea in the South Wedge.

“The Beatles have George Harrison and The Who had John Entwistle — you know, they wrote songs,” Wilcox said by way of comparison. “But they weren't the main guys. So I always wrote songs, but I never was the songwriter in the band.”

He’s decided to take the songwriting spotlight with his latest project, “Songs for My Friends to Sing,” an album of 15 original songs sung by a "who's who" of Rochester rock vocalists. The collection, released on Rags Records, features a variety of rock ‘n’ roll moods which will be on display when Wilcox and his assembled musicians take the project to the Lovin’ Cup for a CD release show on Oct. 22.

It’s obvious from listening to “Songs for My Friends to Sing” that Wilcox doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the same can’t be said for his songs. Even with titles as silly as “Welcome to the Monkey House” — a playful, mid-tempo bit of alt-rock with cryptic lyrics that includes a nonsensical reference to Mother Hubbard —Wilcox pays clear attention to craft, and his songs have a forward momentum that can’t be denied.

As one might expect from an album that puts the singer front-and-center, the more charismatic the vocalist, the more affecting the song. On “Cradle,” Alan Murphy, frontman for The Mighty High & Dry, brings a subtle Jim Morrison affectation to what otherwise sounds like a lost Pearl Jam song from the mid-’90s. Murphy snarls throughout with perfect intonation and more than enough vocal swagger to carry the song. As sung by Kyle Williams, “The Airship” is another gem on the album, made to shine all the more brightly with sparkling background vocals and layers of warm, reverbing electric guitar.

“Songs for My Friends to Sing” hits its stride in the home stretch, with three especially memorable tracks in a row. “When You Go” features acoustic guitar and the straightforward folk crooning of Lucinda Monder.

“Sting” is high-powered rock recalling the ’70s and ’80s, with vocalist Mel Muscarella of Violet Mary channeling the raw power and defiant, melodic vocals of Pat Benatar and Heart’s Ann Wilson.

“There were a couple of different takes on the melody before settling into what we recorded, feeling like the melody matched well with the lyrics Adam wrote and what the instruments were doing,” Muscarella said. “It felt kinda like a Pat Benatar tune, with a little Cyndi Lauper-in-“Goonies” nod at the end.”

That powerhouse performance is followed by another of the album’s best songs paired with standout vocals. On “Pathogen,” Iggy Marino of the band Public Water Supply chews up the sonic scenery. Marino possesses arguably the best rock ‘n’ roll voice in Rochester, a razor-sharp tenor that cuts all the more poignantly the higher he goes in his range.

As a collection, “Songs for My friends to Sing” is varied enough, song for song, to sustain listeners’ interest over 15 songs. And as good as the tunes sound on CD, as produced and mixed by Wilcox along with Brendan Simms, they’ll undoubtedly take on a heightened energy at the live performance on Oct. 22, at Lovin’ Cup, 300 Park Point Dr., Rochester. 292-9940. Doors at 6 p.m., show from 7 to 10 p.m. $10.;

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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