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If the Ocean Gets Rough

If the Ocean Gets Rough

Willy Mason

Virgin / 2007

James Ketchell

The singer-songwriter from Martha’s Vineyard is back with a new album. When he released Where the Humans Eat in 2004 he won himself many fans among critics and the music buying public.  His simple folksy tunes revealed an singer-songwriter beyond his years who managed to tap into something. Especially in the UK where he sold over 100,000 copies.  However, this was all too much for the young man – I remember seeing him at the Barfly swigging neat vodka from a bottle. He eventually went home and started playing and recording songs with his family in his grandmother’s basement and releasing them over the web.

Willy Mason doesn’t do promotion in the traditional sense.  Taking a leaf out of Woody Guthrie’s book, he toured the UK extensively playing gigs for fans in their homes, only instead of riding a boxcar he did the 21st century equivalent – driving around in a second hand Nissan Micra.

So we’ve established that Mason, who also shares a name with a brilliant 24 character, is no ordinary music star. In fact he’d probably hate that tag.  But the question that you, Rockbeatstone reader, is probably asking yourself is, is this second album any good? And the answer is yes and no.

If the Ocean Gets Rough is far more introspective than Where the Humans Eat.  It seems that the hype and acclaim of the first album have made the man more introspective.  This is no more apparent on ‘Save Myself’.  Here he takes the commentary of ‘Oxygen’ from Where the Humans Eat, only internalises it to no longer be a universal tune, just how he can avoid the pitfalls of modern life and what this means to him.  Musically, it is the catchiest song on the record and also the first single.  Don’t get me wrong he’s still protesting at the world and society around him, only in a more personal manner.  ‘We Can Be Strong’ is another highlight. Here Mason has a blues based song which revolves around bass and piano.  Here rock harmonies and his guitar playing create a rich texture which allows the song to imprint itself inside your mind.

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Images are important in Mason’s writing and he liberally alludes to nature and water.  His narrative is punctuated by leaves falling, rivers flowing and choppy ocean waters.  He seems to have been inspired by his surroundings in Martha’s Vineyard.  This is most apparent in his two tracks, ‘When the Leaves have Fallen’ and the namesake track of the album.  ‘When the Leaves have Fallen’ sees Mason deplore a world where nature is being destroyed at the expense of greed with a sparse arrangement and ‘If the Ocean Gets Rough’ sees Mason’s insecurities come out in a most refreshing way, pleading with someone to help him sing through difficult times.

Overall, the album isn’t as strong as his debut, Where the Humans Eat.  There are still moments of brilliance and his soft, lazy voice still has that inexplicable quality which allows for repeated listening but the more introspective nature of the album will not win him many new fans.  However, Mason is a singer-songwriter who obviously doesn’t like doing things by the record industry handbook and is clearly writing and singing the songs he wants to in the way he wants to. For a 22 year old man to be able to do this in today’s music industry, he should be applauded. Fans of singer-songwriters and of the first album will no doubt already have this release, but others should approach this one with a little caution.

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