Willy Mason | Don’t Stop Now (Communion)

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willymason cant_75Like any respectable music nerd, I bought his debut full-length album at the merch table after the show and played it on repeat for the better part of three weeks.

I saw Willy Mason open for Conor Oberst roughly nine years ago. I remember liking him immediately because he was all of 19 years old and had a powerful air of authenticity about him. His songs were thoughtful and his voice reminded me of a folksy freight train, like Johnny Cash with a lot less twang. Like any respectable music nerd, I bought his debut full-length album (Where the Humans Eat) at the merch table after the show and played it on repeat for the better part of three weeks. My favorite track, “Oxygen,” became a personal manifesto was on every mix CD I created circa 2004/2005.

Sadly, I didn’t learn anything about him or follow his career. I missed both his second and third full-lengths (If the Ocean Gets Rough in 2007 and Carry On in 2012). It’s a new year, though, so I resolve to delve into the world of Willy Tarantino-style, starting with his new EP and working my way backward. For now, though, let’s just focus on the EP.

The new EP features three tracks from his last studio album, and a fourth song (the title track) that was recorded with Bogie Ogerton in Rosemead, Calif. The production effects are heavier than his first album, but they’re not obtrusive or distracting. There’s a 10” vinyl pressing available and Mason is touring the U.S. in January and February.

The first track, “Talk Me Down,” starts with a kind of folksy island beat mixed with echoing chimes and distortions. Mason’s voice occasionally creeps up into his falsetto, and gentle harmonies layer in this reflective piece. He sings, “How did I come this way, come this way, come this way/ but it’s just another page./ My book will have its day.”

“I Got Gold” is an upbeat number with an infectious rhythm. The melody feels like folk rock but the beat has a gallop to it that makes me want to wear a weathered cowboy hat and tip it with a grin.“Restless Fugitive” was originally intended as a call-and-response song, but Mason changed it as a result of his experience performing it live. It’s a slow and rhythmic march that was written while he was on tour in support of his second studio album. “Restless Fugitive” is a song about the desire to return home, which for Mason is Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. He sings, “When I left this world behind me, I thought that heaven there would find me/ but heaven’s in the town that bore me.”

“Don’t Stop Now” starts with melody and tone that reminds me of an old ragtime number. Mason’s vocals in this song go from talking to singing and at one point shouting in background at a distance while chains rattle, but somehow it all fits and all works, which is something that can also be said for the EP as a whole.

Mason has definitely grown since his 2004 studio debut, but the authenticity that I fell in love with is still front-and-center. | Mandy Jordan

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