Sounds of Music

Between Folk and Country: To Willie

er-towillieOn my old blog I had a small space to share the music I was listening to and so I didn’t have to actually write a lot about it except for a title and a few superlatives. Now I either don’t mention it at all or feel obliged to come up with something deeper to say and frankly not a lot of music deserves that effort. But here’s something that does.

To Willie by Phosphorescent is a tribute to, no surprise here, Willie Nelson, one of country legends. Now, where I come from country is not popular and most people can’t tell Johnny Cash from Dolly Parton but it still has a faint stink of stigma, like it’s something only truck drivers would listen to. As I was growing up I had no reason to disbelieve that and stayed away from country (which isn’t hard at all) until I started listening to Bob Dylan. I still scoffed at his more country-like tunes and even though I heard Pat Garret soundtrack a million and seven times I usually skipped “Turkey Chase” – until I didn’t. Dylan was my backdoor to country and when I later got to know Johnny Cash I had to face the facts: there was something about country I could really enjoy. (It’s the rhythm. And the acoustic aspect, but especially the rhythm.)

However, prejudice is a hard thing to shed and I never feel entirely comfortable admitting to people, or myself, that I like country classics or anyone that emulates them (except for Johnny Cash; he’s so beyond any of that). Luckily, there are so many ways to skin the cat – or, more importantly, to tinker with labels to avoid discomfort. And so while I don’t exactly listen to country, I really like various other genres: like americana, or folk, or especially indie folk.

There’s only one problem with that: many indie folk artists, while they definitely have the heart, lack the old masters’ ability to craft a catching and powerful tune. And so, to come back to Phosphorescent, the union between this modern rendition and the classic, melodic sound works wonderfully for me. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and I still find it very strong, but it actually moved me the first time I heard its second song “Too Sick to Pray,” and this really doesn’t happen too often.

Even though I’m a lyrics junkie, I can hardly relate to Nelson’s lyrics about partying hard or feeling bad after partying so hard. Still, the hypnotic sound that Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck weaves makes the songs go beyond their pretty trivial literal meaning and speak of existence (and isn’t it a joyous subject). What is more, the record is wonderfully consistent. After listening to any album for a few times I will normally pick a song or, at most, three that I like and never return to the rest. But even though I have favorites from To Willie (“Reasons to Quit”, “Too Sick to Pray” and “The Party’s Over”, since you didn’t ask) listening to the entire album remains a powerful experience: at times calming, at times saddening, but never leaving those heartstrings of mine indifferent.

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