A while back there was a brief sidebar discussion on a thread somewhere here about Gold City’s decision to single “I’m Rich.” I don’t know what made me think of it today, but I did. Specifically, I was thinking two things. One, this is a good example of how sg’s concert-driven fan culture results in radio singles that at least as much to do with how well a song plays live as how fit it is in its own right to be on the radio. The other (which is really just another way to restate the first thing), is that “I’m Rich” as a single is a strategically savvy decision but a musically one-dimensional song that really rises and falls on the group’s ability to sell it live. And of course that often involves some sort of hijinks, shenanigans, or other tomfoolery from Jonathan Wilburn, vocally and physically.
Fine. Whatever. For its own reasons, Gold City has decided that Wilburn’s excitability works with their revamped look and sound. I’ve never been very sure of that calculus. Wilburn’s antics made more sense 1)when he was 10 years younger and 2)when he was pretending to misbehave in the presence of the older Tim Riley. But now that a younger Riley is running the show, now that the group has traded its older vocalists in for newer, younger, hipper models, and now that Wilburn is the oldest guy on stage by some years, his cut-up routine doesn’t feel like it’s aging that well (compared, to say, the grumpy old man thing that Glen Payne perfected and complemented with his little hops and jumps and other physical affectations). Instead, the sort of stuff he’s got to do to sell a song like “I’m Rich” on stage just feel a little down in the teeth, drawing attention to his aging and very limited repertoire as a vocalist and showman as much as it gets an audience on its feet.
Of course, the majority of Gold City’s fans love (love!) Wilburn and the Rileys would be foolish to trade him in even if his odometer is starting to lap and his paint is thinning. In addition to his vocal role, Wilburn serves a sentimental function on stage, linking the old and new Gold Citys (or is it Cities?) to one another in fans’ eyes and minds. That sort of linkage is an invaluable asset for a group of relatively young artists still establishing their reputations and proving themselves - famous name notwithstanding. In that context, though it’s a weak radio single – tunes of such lyrical shallowness really require the kind of improvisational expertise that’s most commonly found and cultivated in the black gospel tradition – it’s smart bidness to single “I’m Rich” (it’s nearing the top ten on the SN chart). The more Wilburn can be Wilburn, the more chances he has to create a sense of his own legendary status as the perpetual class clown of gospel music.Email this Post