Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Willis Earl Beal: 'Acousmatic Sorcery'

First published as one of Dummy's albums of the week

Willis Earl Beal
Acousmatic Sorcery
Hot Charity/XL Recordings

His rags-to-records story precedes him: living rough in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Willis Earl Beal began scratching out the roughest of rough-edged, sad-eyed, home-brewed soul with a voice much older than his 27 years and equipment as flashy as a beat-up acoustic guitar and a karaoke machine. After circling the city's hipster scene, distributing flyers for his outsider blues containing just a name and number, Beal even had a crack at the US X-Factor – he made it to boot camp, but was dumped when Cowell and co realised they were dealing with an actual personality.

Despite the press-friendly characterisation of Beal as an ol' fashioned, dust-covered wandering bluesman, it's obvious from the chugging anger and clanking percussion of 'Take Me Away' and 'Angel Chorus' that he has more in common with Captain Beefheart or Tom Waits than John Lee Hooker, while the child-like dissonance heard on Cosmic Queries brings to mind Royal Trux at their most deranged. Acousmatic Sorcery won't be for everyone, but as a portrait of America's underbelly from one of its almost-forgotten citizens, it's nothing less than an album of our time, despite its obvious anti-modernity.

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