Listen Up: Wednesday, December 15, 2004
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Willy Mason

Where the Humans Eat (Team Love Records)

By JIMMY FOWLER

It may sound strange to hail an uncommonly sophisticated, sweetly rustic debut and then flag the coming end of that artist’s career. But after you listen to Where the Humans Eat by Martha’s Vineyard-native and folk musician brat Willy Mason, your ears won’t be able to shake the sensation of a one-shot fired loudly and wondrously. Some of this impression has to do with his background, as a 19-year-old who graduated from high school last year, did the New York City open-mic rounds, and cut this disc live with a few overdubs in a Catskills house. Kid brother Sam skip-thumps with infectious spirit on the drums. Will the precocious Mason boys stick with the music thing? In both the vocal inflection of his sing-talking and the lyrics, deep-voiced Willy exercises his Dylanisms without becoming noxious, especially on “Hard Hand to Hold,” in which he extends the verses with melody-busting verbiage: “And when you get to the door / You’re still so busy fighting wars / That you can’t look upon your lady as a friend.” The beat picks up on the beguiling “Still a Fly,” which offers gentle words of guidance to someone even younger, perhaps drummer Sam: “That’s alright, that’s OK / I can wait, you’re still a fly / Eating fruit, trying to live / Within the space you ate.”

Mason proves a wily instrumentalist on the title cut, where he dubs a mournful cello for dramatic effect behind the chorus and then does a turnaround with a pixie-ish vibraphone solo. Male twentysomething musicians may revere Johnny Cash en masse, but few have managed to actually sound as much like the young Cash as Mason does when, on the tambourine-tinged “Fear No Pain,” he sings: “I ain’t gonna fear no pain / Ain’t nothing worth that strain / I’m gonna walk in the hands of the Lord.” It’s a startling moment and a telling one. Whereas Cash sounded old before the years caught up, inimitable curious youth fires Mason’s old-master rip-offs. Where the Humans Eat pulses with a fragile restlessness that makes you feel protective. It’s sad to think of his gilded exuberance, dropped from such a great height, tumbling into the jagged hole of big-money music.

— Jimmy Fowler


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