Those who struggle with their own reflection and for those who constantly feel uncomfortable in the skin they were placed in; there is an outlet for all of these ugly feelings. Sometimes you are not the one who gets them out, sometimes it is someone else with not just a gift, but a blessing to unleash everything you feel because sometimes, you just physically cannot do it.
At the start of 2012 I wrote about a singer that I accidentally found, proving that sometimes accidents are no bad thing. I became fascinated with Willis Earl Beal’s music because there was nothing about him floating around on the internet. Nobody knew who he was. Nobody knew really where he was. Those that found him were more than likely feeling the same as me; lost. And those that listened to him immediately felt as if they had found some kind of home in his music.
Willis posses the soul of Sam Cooke and the gnarly,raspy drawl of Tom Waits. Willis has soul, and it is infectious. It is the most beautiful thing. Willis had nothing before his debut record was released. He was homeless. He made posters with his number on for people to call just to hear him sing. Willis took it back to how it should have been done, how it always should be done. So what has he done a year on from his debut?
Well, his music is still as raw. His music is still as heartbreaking. Nobody Knows is a phenomenal record, and I sincerely hope this is labelled as a record of the year because it is seriously unlike anything else we’ve had in such a long long time. Chan Marshall (Cat Power) features on Coming Through; with her distinctive voice and Willis’ heartbreaking (it is the only way to describe his voice) just sounds so perfect. I can only hope that this is the start of something musically beautiful between the two. I hope they make a haunting Blues kind of record; enough to make you feel like you’ve experienced the worst kind of pain possible, but tough enough to pull through it.
Whilst his debut, Acousmatic Sorcery seemed to focus on dealing with isolation and despair- Nobody Knows seems to have slightly more positive tones to it. Yet, Willis has a voice that is just made to break your heart mainly because of how much soul is there and how you can tell every single word he is singing means the world to him. And because of this, his words mean everything to you.
I’m too young to have experienced the likes of Howlin’ Wolf first time round, but I can imagine those that were fortunate enough to do so felt like I did the first time I ever heard Willis Earl Beal. Nobody Knows is the kind of record you play when you’re searching for answers that nothing nor no one can seem to give you. Too Dry To Cry is a wonderful example of how strong his voice is. The production on this record is just as raw as Willis’ voice. I think if you listen to his music and you don’t believe him, you’re not listening to it right. I know I’m being entirely biased, but I really cannot understand how anyone could not fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with Willis Earl Beal.
One thing I’ve noticed (amongst many) is that Nobody Knows fits perfectly after Acousmatic Sorcery. Acousmatic Sorcery is the thunderstorm and Nobody Knows is that much-needed sunshine. Nobody Knows is another raw record that serves as a beacon of hope. Sure it may be a bit more positive than his debut, but there are songs on this record that will just bring you to the brink of tears; the song I have in mind that may possibly ruin you is What’s The Deal? It’s a song that resembles being the only person left in a bar and consuming too much alcohol. It is the realisation of being alone, even if you are pathetically told over and over again that you aren’t.
Willis sums up the best and worst feelings a person can have in his music, and that’s what makes him a source of comfort and an ounce of strength for when you really have nothing left. He’s my generation’s Townes Van Zandt, and I am so proud to be a fan of Willis Earl Beal.