Willi Carlisle – Peculiar, Missouri
Willi Carlisle has good intentions with this effort & good lyrics, he weaves determinedly individualistic stories that are a bit heavy-handed at times (lots of words & long lines which cause the pace to occasionally stall & get awkward). But Willi’s lead song “Your Heart’s a Big Tent” is well-conceived. Bright harmonica, a driving banjo, shades of the late Utah Phillips, the finesse of the late David Olney with the entertaining value-added of the late Boxcar Willie. Big shoes to fill for Willi Carlisle – but you know what? Willi does it.
He plays banjo, percussion, acoustic guitar, guitar, button accordion, fiddle, banjo, fretless banjo & harmonica. He sings & plays consistently well on his 2nd LP in his own compelling style & provides 12 ambitious tracks like “Tulsa’s Last Magician.” Willi obviously knows how to create music with a circuitry of sensitivity. He says his words evoke the American storytelling of Whitman, Carl Sandburg & e.e. cummings. Sandburg is fine, but Carlisle will gain even more traction lyrically if he taps into the works of Frank O’Hara.
Willi’s the salt-of-the-earth on Peculiar, Missouri (Drops July 15–Free Dirt/Trade Root) recorded in Louisiana. He summons a Johnny Bond-Johnny Cash talking-vocal style once even popular with Woody Guthrie & Bob Dylan. But the novelty flavor of “Vanlife,” in its quivering voice teeters closely to C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” instead. Willi’s too good to waste his creativity on dribble. Willi comes from a punk line musically & risked his life in roughneck bars, slept under overpasses & was a street corner busker – that’s his true musical magnet.
The infectiously melodic “Este Mundo,” is Texas Tornadoes oriented. Excellent stuff. This is where WC shines. “I Won’t Be Afraid,” skates along in a Jimmie Dale Gilmore aesthetic. But — too many words. The song itself is basic but effective. A real beauty.
Willi comes off as a latter-day John Denver with “The Down and Back” an exciting tune. While “Peculiar, Missouri,” works well with its Jack Kerouac pace & Arlo Guthrie intonation.
I like Willi. He has emotional honesty without being soft & always with an entertaining style. Though he can be wordy it can be construed as expressive. He needs a touch more outlaw. He’s closer to Waylon & Merle than George Jones. But he has Jones’ vocal fortification as in “The Grand Design” – an absolutely beautiful song.
No need to be political, controversial, or confrontational to make a statement. Willi is fluid. Musicians – Grant D’Aubin (bass/guitar/acoustic guitar/vocal/mandolin/bowed bass), Joel Savoy (fiddle/baritone guitar/dobro/accordion/guitar/accordion/guitar/organ/autoharp/calliope/ tambourine/cacophony). Jim Kolacek (drums), Chris Stafford (pedal steel/electric guitar/accordion), Nicholas Pence (rhythm bones), Effie Savoy (harmony), Max Baca (bajo sexto/vocal), Crystal & Pete Damore (backup vocals).
Cover art — too much pink for an Americana LP. Willi’s a sepia, rural, homegrown artist, not a candy cane. Photo courtesy of Willi’s website. Listen & Purchase @ https://willicarlisle.bandcamp.com/album/peculiar-missouri