Willy Mason Fiction/UMA ★★★★✩
THIS is the third album from US troubadour Willy Mason, on an upward trajectory since the release of his impressive debut Where the Humans Eat seven years ago. That album and its successor, If
the Ocean Gets Rough, revealed a songwriter rough at the edges in a recording sense but with a soulful, seductive voice that took his rootsy, occasionally off-kilter country music to a higher level. Here the production values have gone up, perhaps because he has a new label, Fiction. Producer Dan Carey, a man with a pop pedigree from working with Franz Ferdinand, Django Django and Eugene McGuinness, among others, gives an elegant sheen to the material here. There’s a fragility yet warmth to Mason’s voice, reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot in places. The opening What is
This, a slow, brooding cry of despair that explodes with an electric guitar burst at the end, sets the tone of melancholy for most of what follows. Show
Me the Way to Go Home, an acoustic ballad, is maudlin and striking. Mason isn’t particularly happy, but he paints exquisite pictures on the gentle Shadows in the Dark and on Into Tomorrow, with its subtle percussive undertow and acoustic picking allowing every nuance of Mason’s voice to shine. The centrepiece and easily the best song is
Restless Fugitive, a plodding six minutes given a beautifully Daniel Lanois-style ambience with shimmering guitars and basic but essential drums. Mason floats on top, telling the tale of a man for whom ‘‘ heaven is in the town before me’’. The mood lifts on the country shuffle I Got Gold, before he returns to the slower, ambient brief on Painted
Glass. This is a well-crafted recording with polished songwriting at its heart.