Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Wllis Earl Beal has released two such different albums -- Acoustmatic Society which were home recordings pulled together from the scores he had made, then the soulful and more straightahead Nobody knows -- that you could never anticpate where he might go next.
Beal has also been one of the most insightful and self-aware musicians it has been Elsewhere's privilege to interview and he convincingly disabused the notion that he was some kind of idiot-savant.
He seems to have had a rough run of it because of the impressions left by that impressive debut album (and early interviews in which he said he wanted to be like a black Tom Waits) and now he has moved record labels, which might suggest yet another start.
This collection is as removed from the previous two as they were from each other, although that soulful voice is still deployed, here on mood pieces which sometimes sound weightless as he sings over ambient keyboards but also sometimes let a burred edge creep in to add an even further layer of unsettling sounds into the mix.
Sometimes it sounds a little like a radio slightly off the frequency playing Nat King Cole or Johnny Mathis in a far room, or -- on the beautifully holy In Your Hands -- a slo-mo gospel singer.
And the croon on I Am sounds just a smidgen like Harry Nilsson, as heard on an old 78rpm.
On these engrossing songs he explores states of his soul (Waste It Away) or the nature of existence, and through understatement and a coolly paced delivery he drags you in to this world of his own sound design.
There's something of a slightly creepy backstreet at midnight feel in the sonic bed of Who Knows? but his featherlight melodic touch is enticing. And where once he might have been pegged as singing some kind of blues that element is even more understated here to the point of barely-there.
Willis Earl Beal is an undeniably deep thinker and self-questioning as much as he is a man who looks to the bigger picture might also find a great emptiness in the void.
Another must-hear album from an unusual and singular source.
This album does not seem to be available in New Zealand but it is available from the usual on-line sources.