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This week brought nu-Folk pioneer Willy Mason to the WERS studio. He’s been touring his new album, Carry On. Mason played with Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros on a tour which has been brewing in Europe and Australia all summer. Willy Mason led the vanguard of the folk revivalist movement back in 2004 with his first full-length album Where the Humans Eat, and after taking the last five years off from writing and recording he is back in the saddle with fresh eyes on the future.
Willy Mason arrived at the studio without pretense or fanfare. He showed up alone and was ready to record within a matter of moments. This unassuming assuredness comes across in his music. The album, like Mason himself, is dressed down, honest and pragmatic. Talking with Mason, one might pick up a hint of timelessness in his demeanor and carriage. His parlance is direct and free from flowers and feelings. When asked who he would like to work with in the future, he took time to consider the politics and intricacies of the question, stripped them away, and replied, “It’s better not to get your hopes up. I just want to work with people who are comfortable with themselves or who are comfortable with not being comfortable with themselves.” His answer is actually quite gracious when you consider the fact that his big break musically came when Sean Foley, an associate of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Desaparecidos) , heard Mason on the radio in Mason’s native Martha’s Vineyard. Since then Mason has been fortunate enough to work with a cavalcade of big names in the business including Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead, and The Chemical Brothers.
The first song that Mason played for us was “Into Tomorrow,” a speaker-spell dream voyage from his new album Carry On. Mason’s voice can be described as something seething in the cinders of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire. As is the case with a lot of folk music the acoustic chords seem to fall away once the listener is inducted into the sphere of the songwriter’s psyche. The lyrics are heady and drenched in metaphor, Mason mentions those who “argue for the logic of the interstate” when discussing the desire to see change in the streets. A full explication of the lyrics would take entirely too long and would most likely go against the author’s original intention. These songs are not meant to be blasted through an MP3 player on the way to get your morning coffee. They are meant to be spun around a phonograph at 38 RPM, not spit through tiny plastic speakers at 45 mph. As Mason said, “vinyl is better at vibrating the molecules in your brain.” Besides, he said, “jewel cases break.”
Next up was “Pick-up Truck.” This song conceals grandiose ideas within a simple song structure. The chorus “She’s got a pick-up truck, sleeps in the back when she gets stuck” may lead you to believe that you are hearing a typical country track. But there is no mention of a red solo cup or a ten point buck in the next verse. “Pick-up Truck” is a pillar on the new album that supports Mason’s effort to be innovative while not pushing too far beyond the rough-and-tumble roots of the folk genre. Willy Mason may not have a personal philosophy all set yet, but he is working on creating one. At the corner stone of the endeavor is empathy, the ability to perceive others’ emotions as if they were your own. And it is this that grants Mason the ability to write and perform technically solid and lyrically brilliant songs that step into the mind of the listener and reframe their point of view.