During the Great Depression, Alan Lomax began a decades long quest to record and document unheard American folk, blues, and other indigenous music. His recording work made him arguably the most important folklorist in American history. He died in 2002, and nearly ten years after, Willis Earl Beal has released an album that sounds like the work of someone Alan Lomax could have found in an old Depression-era shack in a forgotten corner of Chicago’s South Side. Beal, who sounds considerably older and more weathered than he is, is obviously influenced by Tom Waits, but his music is much rougher and sparser than anything in Waits’ discography (yes, even Bone Machine). The sound quality is comparable to the surviving recordings of Robert Johnson, all tape hiss and muddled sounds and audible recording errors (Beal recorded straight to a DAT machine). Waits’ influence is most clearly heard on “Take Me Away” and “Evening’s Kiss,” where Beal leans toward the more grizzled end of his vocal range, but he’s also capable of an effective croon, as on “Monotony.” The album's immediacy is its greatest quality; it feels like a completely unadulterated look into who Willis Earl Beal is as a person.
Willis Earl Beal - "Take Me Away"
Willis Earl Beal - "Evening's Kiss"