Widely tipped as one of the next big things in music, Chicago’s Willis Earl Beal is made of strong, strong stuff and has a sound to match. His first album “Acousmatic Blues” came out on 2nd April and is probably one of the most unusual debuts for many years. The guy has, in the past, had a fairly rough time of things – most of the songs for this album were put down while Earl Beal was homeless in and around Chicago. At one point he was posting handmade flyers promoting his work to as many people as possible, hoping he’d get some sort of reply or some luck. He didn’t even have enough money to eat properly, let alone do the most basic of things like run a car and he definitely wasn’t polishing a vintage car and looking for classic car insurance. Well, in the end he did get lucky. Amazingly, he got a reply from Mos Def, who’s been championing and supporting him since hearing one of his demos. He was impressed enough to not only want to help but to also offer to put together and produce a film of Earl Beal’s life which is gonna make for a fascinating watch. To put it bluntly though now, the boy finally done good.
What does he sound like?
Most of his songs come from the soul, from the heart, sort of like a 21st century Otis Redding. He’s got a very bluesy, funky vibe going on and his recordings and songs are more or less pared down to as basic a set up as possible. Very little in the way of any backing, if there is it’s very simple – he basically wants to let his voice do the talking (or singing, or whatever). What he does is sort of like a cross between rapping and singing; lyrically he’s from the school of hard knocks, the kind of “don’t take any shit” stuff that can only come from heartbreak and a broken soul. From his song “Evening’s Kiss”:
“Clip-clop, concrete heels on it. I’m still disillusioned and cool catatonic. Always in a daze without smoking that chronic. And the door’s still open at the end of the day. And I’m still hoping without much to say. Ask me how I’m feeling; well I’m full of shit ‘n doubt. Ask me who I’m with and I’ll tell you I’m without…”
Wavering Lines is just mind blowing, the video clip below is the screen test for the song. He introduces himself and then just breaks into this torrent of unaccompanied soul. He’s just got the kind of voice that’s so real, so full of life and so full of experience, despite him still being only twenty seven years old. His vocal performances can really only get stronger as he develops his style and gets more songs under his belt.
He’s got it all: a croaky rasp, a hollering roar, a falsetto soar.
Perhaps the only downside to Beal’s music that needs improving on is the sometimes not always perfect backing. There’s downplaying it and taking it back to basics, which is all well and good if it’s done properly – however, there’s just this feeling that sometimes it’s almost as if he’s not even trying. It could work if it had just a bit more effort put into that part of his work rather than just solely concentrating on his vocal performance. If he could master that he’d be elevated simply from another good vocalist to someone extraordinary who’ll be talked about for years and years to come. That said, if it’s purely a great vocal you want, he’s got it. He’s got it in heaps and tons.
You wanna go see him live, right? You can. He’s playing dates in the following places during May. 2nd May at The Echo, Los Angeles with Emily Kokal, 3rd May Cafe du Nord, San Francisco 4th May Barboza, Seattle 5th May Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver and 6th May Holocene, Portland. He’s back in Chicago between the 13th and 15th July for dates at the Pitchfork Music Festival. You can find all the details about his gigs here: willisearlbeal.com. In between he’s playing throughout Europe and also the UK. Go go go. Willis Earl Beal. You heard him here first.