There is already considerable mythology (hype?) surrounding Willis Earl Beal. Originally from Chicago and now a resident of Albuquerque he is a prolific song writer but this (`Evening's Kiss') will be his first `formal' release. Beal , still only in his early 20's, has been recording songs for some time - and then leaving the CD's around town in the (alleged) hope of using them to befriend girls!
One such CD was taken seriously by a local paper and .... to cut a long tale of hype short .... 17 of his songs were put out on a limited 200 only run of CD's. He's now signed to XL Records and 9 of the 17 songs appear on this CD (plus 'Nepenenoyka' and 'Bright Copper 'Noon' which were not on the earlier release). Criminally excluded on the commercial release are the lovely 'My Resignation' and the Screamin' Jay Hawkins-alike 'The Masquerade' which you really should see if you can find lurking on the internet.
`Acousmatic Sorcery' (the same title as the 17 track version) is a perfect title for an album which veers from challenge to pleasure and back again. Beal has an amazing voice - actually TWO voices. For much of the album (really a collection of home recorded songs 'put together' as an album) you could be mistaken for thinking it was a set of lost `Franks Wild Years' era Tom Waits out-takes (recorded in a toilet!) while on others he sounds closer to an unpolished Otis Redding.
`Evening's Kiss' is one of the few tracks from this challenging album with anything resembling conventional instrumentation. On this track you actually hear hints of guitars - whereas on many of the other tracks Beal's voice is accompanied by minimal Waits-esqe percussion and little else.
Be warned, all of Beal's available tracks so far - including `Evening's Kiss' (the single release)- are low-fi in the extreme and veer between being things of beauty and, in some cases, sound like Alan Lomax's early field recordings of anonymous bluesmen and sharecroppers. Many are raw and ghostly - but packed with the emotion of the delta blues singers of 60 or more years ago.
Rumour has it that Beal will soon enter a studio for the first time. It is to be hoped that this undoubted talent finds (or is found by his record label) a sympathetic backing band (such as The Bellrays or The Dirtbombs or even Jack White) but in the meanwhile `Evening's Kiss' is a very good place for him, and you, to start out (perhaps before you dip your toe in to the full album).
If you get the, rare, chance to see Beal live (as I did at Nottingham's excellent 'Dot To Dot' festival) then grab it. In the flesh it all makes real sense. An artist (in every sense!) of considerable stage presence - even with just a reel-to-reel tape player and a crazy cape to keep him company.
Firstly, I am compelled to give my opinion of this album because the other review is really inaccurate and might put people off of listening to thie fine new artist. Acousmatic Sorcery opens with a foreboding bell composition before seguing into the heavy, muddy blues of Take Me Away. Beal's voice is immediately grabbing, it is gutteral and raw, and his bleak poetic lyrics immediately made me think of Nick Drake, with Muddy Waters style delivery. Beal is no one trick pony either. Throughout this album there are songs ranging from the fast and guitar driven, to compelling slow burning songs that exemplify his poetry and really compell the listener. Yes, the musicianship is minimal, but it is the rawness and simplcity of drums that sound homemade, and crackling guitar loops that allow all the power of Beale's voice to suck you in. It's really beautiful. There are even rap-styled songs, but think rap in the good sense. Good RZA I'm thinking. But whatever style Beale attempts he is a complete success. Lyrically intelligent, his wit is bitter and his words fresh. He could be the most exciting new artist to emerge in 2012, I think. Seriously there is not a song here that isn't very good and interesting. My favourite song: Cosmic Queries, a reflective love song which culminates in the spoken word damnation reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg. If you enjoy the White Stripes, The Black Keys, and other general blues and even rap performers, you are probably going to love Willis Earl Beal's fresh mixture of influences. It deserves your ears attention.
I quite like the old blues/indie* guys and those that rocked and rolled in the gutters while people like Elvis and the Beatles were tearing things up in the mainstream. Much of that 'alternative' older stuff sounds similar to this, but they had something very real and of it's time going on. WEB sounds bored stiff (and guessing by the 'artwork' in the sleeve, he is, quite literally). I have to say I was disgusted by the fact that the inside cover features a little story/diary entry and drawings of 'Mischa'. This, coupled with the audio/lyrics, conjures up images of WEB sitting in some squalid apartment in the mid-west, or wherever he was after Simon Cowell kicked him off X-Factor (maybe it wasn't Cowell who kicked him off that show, whatever), feeling sorry for himself in a conceited way while watching The OC on DVD and... I've got better things to think of, let alone listen to. All of that said, he is definitely intriguing live, albeit quite contrived in his outift, stage set up and performance. Overall he could be better if he kept it real and put less effort into trying to be 'cool'/'different'.
*I say indie, because the music wasn't always based on Blues progressions and they often operated independently with a spirit more akin to proper indie, not the 'indie' genre tripe we get today.
You can definately tell it was recorded on cheap equipment, the mastering leaves a lot to be desired but therein lies the charm of the album.
Willis Earl Beal is a very interesting man, with a very interesting story about how this collection of songs came together for us to hear. Once you understand the story, you'll understand the sound and i imagine you won't be as put off by it. I dare say you'll find a warmth and authenticity to it that is very reflective of his overall character. Endearing, sincere and devoid of any inclination to be vapid, shallow or derivative.
I expect a more polished effort next time around but for now, this recording coupled with memories of his live performance (if you ever get the chance to see him in person, i emplore you to not second guess your decision: GO!) a satisfactory outing by an artist i think will be very, very special in years to come.
Brilliant live but this album doesn't do him justice at all. I get the gimmick lo-fi etc but this album is very poor with no musicianship at all. Save your money and go see him live. Hopefully if he releases another album it will be more akin to how he sounds live.