Review Summary: Teething problems.
Almost everyone is a sucker for rags to riches success stories. Perhaps it’s because humanity has a tendency to root for the underdog, or maybe it’s because it illustrates just what we're capable of if we really put our minds to something. Of all the artists who have struggled and toiled to succeed in their trade, few have invested more emotionally than Willis Earl Beal. Beal found himself homeless after a medical discharge from the United States army and he began working entry level jobs, all whilst doggedly pursuing his love of music. Acousmatic Sorcery
is the emotional outpour of a man who struggled through the tedium and wrote songs when he had “no logical reason to be hopeful.” Logic however didn't stop him from writing and recording and leaving CD’s and flyers quite literally scattered around Albuquerque. Logic also didn't stop him from getting signed.
The main problem with Acousmatic Sorcery
lies in its production, and it often crosses the fragile line that exists in lo-fi music between raw and grating. The instrumentation used by Beal is rough and distorted, the production is fuzzy and untamed, and, probably in a bid to accentuate his story, it’s exactly the way Beal intended it to be. The link between his tough beginnings and the rough production is both too strong and too obvious though, and it stands centre stage usurping every other aspect of the album. It’s a shame, as Beal could have probably achieved the same result had he polished his product slightly and placed the emphasis on his organic vocals and minimalist instrumentation instead. Unfortunately it’s a constant which is difficult to overlook, and despite his best intentions it taints his debut release significantly.
By contrast, Beal’s voice glides through the noise and provides a constant soothing reprieve, and his warm distinctive tone always conveys a welcome conviction. His performance on second track “Take Me Away” is rugged and soulful and has its roots firmly grounded in gospel music, whilst also carrying with it a touch of the gruff Tom Waits. His most effective performance is on the beautiful “Evening’s Kiss,” and the album’s strongest song alerted many to his diverse vocal talents thanks to his serene rendition on the popular Jools Holland show, his calm demeanour and spotless delivery among his noticeable strengths. Although the pain and misery which permeates all of the songs makes Acousmatic Sorcery
an underdog’s story which I’d love to root for, the lack of highlights and the almost unlistenable production does little to sell Beal as an upcoming artist, though thankfully he went some way to addressing these flaws on his very next release Nobody Knows
. Acousmatic Sorcery
was written by the self proclaimed “primary example as to why anybody can do anything,” but it took Beal longer to substantiate that claim than just his debut release.