Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Willis Earl Beal - Nobody Knows

Gather round young ones and allow me to share a tale with you. In the early 2000s in a far away land called Chicago there was a man, a man who took to the streets with music in his heart and flyers in his hands. They read as follows: “My name is Willis Earl Beal. Call me and I’ll sing you a song, write me and I’ll draw you a picture.”
Hang on... Please forgive the children’s story format and grant me a chance to start over.
Ahem. Willis Earl Beal is a singer/songwriter, ex-busker and all round good guy who has just shared his sophomore LP with the world, Nobody Knows. Mainly self-produced this LP is a monument to an artist knows his way around the human ear-heart.

I might be taking liberties here but I really feel it’d be just to dedicate a whole paragraph to discuss Beal’s amazing voice since it seems to be the entree of this whole LP. If Tom Jones, Jack Johnson and Son House met up, traded keys, made and nurtured some super-infant then we’d be dealing something close to WEB’s vocal proficiency as well as some blowout Daily Star scandal. With some stand-out vibrato work, impressive range and an gorgeous falsetto showcased on tracks like White Noise it reminds me of a time where male vocalists weren’t shunned for letting go of pretension and giving their vocal muscles a good stretch; a classier time.

Nobody Knows is a record of two personalities. A Dr.Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation as it were. We are dealt, early in this record, some minimalist and emotive ballads containing flittering orchestral pieces, yearning synths and Beal’s trademark voice sounding smoother than an oiled up Santana, but this doesn’t last long, which is a great thing.
Then tracks Too Dry To Cry come into play. As abrasive gospel mumbles creep around in the shadows, primal drum beats pound away and Earl’s voice sounds gruffer than Rod Stewart chewing on rusty nails.“I got nine inches like a pitchfork prong/ So honey lift up your dress and help me sing this song” Earl spits. This is a total out of left field move for the gentleman who only three tracks earlier was drawing me closer with promises that “the truth will soon be coming through”. I guess he wasn’t lying, and I can’t fault him for that.

In terms of instrumentation Willis knows how to spice his life with variety. Tracks like Coming Through (which incidentally contains some rather endearing backing vocals from Cat Power’s Chan Marshall) and Hole in the Roof grooves some sorely missed Motown shuffles whereas later track Disintegrated channels the spirit of 30s delta blues for a hearty foot-tapping jam. Drawing influences from Soul, Jazz and classic rock Willis is truly a master of crafting timeless music, however, this pony of a LP can occasionally be interpreted as one tricked.

Willis Earl Beal seems to emerged from the underground victorious. Following his unsettling dusty and shallow 2012 release Acoustmatic Sorcery Beal has focused on what is missing in modern songwriters which is flat and undemanding honesty, lyrically and musically. He doesn’t play it safe and this might ultimately be a turn-off for many less acquainted listeners. Beal doesn’t compromise or fret over vulnerability, he presents himself as is and no goofy or under-qualified review writer can take that away from him. Nobody Knows is a diamond in the over diluted and under-enthused songwriter rough.

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