Willy Carries on as “A Gentleman of the Road”
Willy Mason has, like Kings of Leon previously, spent most of his early career as an American artist who was always more popular in the U.K. That will likely change as he kicked off a tour this week supporting Mumford & Sons & others on The Gentlemen of the Road tour series and his new release, Carry On. The sparse, simply arranged album does well to feature Mason’s Kris Kristofferson-like croon and his honest themes and lyrics, but Carry On lacks a breakout hit, something that could catapult him into his tourmate’s popularity.
Carry On opens up with the title track, a song about old age and regret and how to keep going. It’s the classic wide open track-– a few picks of muted guitar strings paired with Mason’s wise old voice, disguising his young age. It would have fit well on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. This style is repeated in “If It’s the End” and “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”
Interesting drum presentations set “Pickup Truck,” “What Is This” and “Restless Fugitive” apart from the rest of the album’s simplicity. They’re all modern studio techniques married with Mason’s old world storytelling that makes for interesting listening. However, the most pop-oriented of the 11 tracks is, “Shadows in the Dark.” It’s a bit more up-tempo (relative to Mason’s usual pondering) and features a nice melody in the chorus. But it still won’t play to a wide audience.
In the end, Carry On has some heartfelt stories to tell. It is the kind of album to which you will listen, but it will never get you moving. Mason is at his best singing old torch-like ballads to regret, as in the title track. He is a gifted storyteller with the wisdom of an artist three times his age. Will America notice, or show up late just as Mumford takes the stage?