Still only 28 Willy Mason is increasingly sounding the old soul. His third album, and first for new label Fiction, sees some of the idealism, along with many of the rough edges of his earlier records worked on like sanded wood. What’s left is smoother, warmer and perhaps a little less charming. It’s polished maple, as opposed to folksy whittling, and some may miss the wide-eyed wonder of his classic ‘Oxygen’. What we have in its place is an often accomplished, rather sad set of songs presided over by a voice that is improving as it ages. If he lives to be as old as Johnny Cash he’s going to sound amazing.
Produced by Hot Chip/MIA/Kylie collaborator Dan Carey, you’d be forgiven for expecting something substantially more upbeat, but the overarching feel here is one of sadness, and a quiet longing. Carey creates lovely, subtle beds for Masons solid-oak voice, using a combination of acoustic drum boxes and understated electronica, while Mason keeps things simple, usually with strummed acoustic guitar and quiet rumble of bass. It’s a far more elegant approach than either 2004’s Where The Humans Eat or 2006’s If The Ocean Gets Rough. Early press for the record promised a departure with 'dub and reggae' influences, which is overstating things somewhat - Mason rarely strays from the forms of blues, folk and country, despite the playful, choppy percussion. The one notable exception - and the record's clear highlight - is the mesmerising six minutes of ‘Restless Fugitive’, which does features a swaying, dubby bass over a sparse beat, and spidery, reverby guitars. The effect is something akin to Think Tank-era Blur covering the Clash’s ‘Bank Robber’. It has a solid, compelling groove, deceptively simple and rather wonderful. It’s easily the best thing Mason has put his name to since ‘Oxygen’.
The centre of the record really is very fine. The sleepy, sad ‘Show Me The Way’ has a gentle, hungover yearning with its ”Show me the way to go home” refrain, possibly a reaction to the themes of travelling, the “keep on moving on”, and “keep on walking” of his earlier records. ‘Into Tomorrow’ is another understated, finger picked shuffle that casts a laid back mood indeed, with Mason on fine lyrical form, including the intriguing line “I wish that I could sing like the trickster in the breeze”, while the country-tinged ‘I Got Gold’ picks up the pace in a likeably knockabout fashion, and ‘Painted Glass’ has an almost psychedelic groove in its snaking bassline and shimmering, almost drone-like harmonies.
All in, Carry On is a solid, if rarely remarkable work, showcasing an artist maturing at his own pace, and sounding content and comfortable in his form. Though it does shed some of the scrappy idealism that first brought him to our attention it’s been replaced with an assurity and a musical confidence that should see Willy Mason a fixture of the landscape for a long time to come.
6Marc Burrows's Score