Willy Mason – ‘Already Dead’ review: a dazzling return from folk rock’s mystery man

The enigmatic artist breaks his musical silence with a contemplative collection that suggests he's been keeping a close eye on current affairs from afar

Like folk rock’s very own Brigadoon, Willy Mason has taken to magically materialising once in a blue moon to dazzle and disarm before slinking back into the shadows. His fourth album, ‘Already Dead’, marks a whopping nine years since his last release, 2013’s enchanting ‘Carry On’, and 17 (17!) since his teenage debut ‘Where The Humans Eat’.

That first record saw the bluesy 19-year-old singer-songwriter draw comparisons to Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie with his earnest protest songs and wide-eyed diggings into the vagaries of the human soul. Listening to Mason’s voice, a heady baritone that feels as if it rumbles at the same frequency as the human heart, is like welcoming back an old pal; you might now have seen each other in years, but getting along with them comes as second nature.

Mason might not have been putting out much in the way of music, but the past decade certainly hasn’t passed him by. On the mournful ‘Oh My Country’, the Martha’s Vineyard-based singer-songwriter picks apart the eternally crumbling nature of the United States, aggravations tumbling out of his mouth as fast as he can think of them. He curses “blood that spills on muddy streets” as he traces the nation’s unrest back to the days of the founding fathers. “You were born as a branch / Of a tree of thorns,” he sighs of his troubled homeland.

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He’s known for folksy finger-picking, but ‘Already Dead’ finds Mason indulging his heavier side – and it totally suits him. ‘One Of The Good Ones’ has a ragged Tom Waits-ian feel as a mini brass band parps along with the carnival-worthy tune, while opener ‘Youth On A Spit’ crams a pretty intense philosophical standpoint (“You can’t kill me / I’m already dead / I feel no pain / I’ve already bled”) into a multi-layered, pointedly psychedelic wig-out. ‘You’d Like To Be Free’ also stomps into deeper sonic waters, with Mason weighing up ideas of personal autonomy over a delightfully grubby bassline and swirling synths.

There are, of course gentler, moments too. ‘If There’s A Heart’ is a softly strummed back-porch beauty – a lowly-lit, one-man doo-wop ballad that proves a timeless foil to the album’s more high intensity moments – while the light soca shuffle of ‘Reservation’ pitches Mason’s favoured big themes into an impossibly catchy melody. There’s no question that Mason knows exactly what he’s doing. Maybe don’t leave it so long next time, Willy?

Details

Release date: August 6

Record label: Cooking Vinyl

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