Liam the Younger – Clear Skies Over Black River

Rating: ★★★½ ·

Once again, Liam Betson is the man behind the recent Liam the Younger releases.  This is his second album under the moniker, finally seeing release (on the same day as the first) after being stored away, then shared with a few friends along the way.  While his association with Titus Andronicus is probably an easy point for critics to point at, there’s definitely something else going on beneath this set of songs, all of which benefit from an expanded length, in comparison to his other release, After the Graveyard.

Anyone can pick at a guitar and crop a tune nowadays, but it takes someone special to really evoke the emotions out of a listener.  Liam the Younger accomplishes this on all his tracks, just like a few others before him.  “Leaving Black River” again recalls both the playing and singing of young Conor Oberst.  You can feel the earnestness in his singing, so much so that he occasionally hits that off note, yet not quite like Oberst’s warble–it’s a little more gentle. Also, there’s hints of a humorless Adam Green on “Country Wide,” which comes across like a haphazard ditty–that is until eventually you fall in love with the track, realizing that Liam Betson might just be the new singer for you.

Adam Green sticks out the most in comparison when you look closely at the lyrical stylings on Clear Skies Over Black River. Take “Walking,” for instance, a song that’s very casual in its composition and seems to merely be recorded thoughts, albeit from different perspectives, of every day happenings.  This is the sort of thing that made Green and his Moldy Peaches so charming, just as it does with Mr. Betson.  Stripped down to guitars, you really just get to listen to the man tell his stories, and everyone loves a nostalgic storytelling moment.

But, don’t let me drown you in comparisons, as this record is so much more than all that.  For one, listen to the whisperingly soft “Beneath the Weeping Willow Tree,” and try to not tell me that this is the sort of song you’ve always been toying with in your bedroom. Or go with Liam on “Clear Skies” as he reminisces about his good day, a la Ice Cube.  These are friends that make you feel close to the artist, allow you to get drawn into his craft; for a lot of us, that’s all we’ve been looking for our whole lives.  Each track on Clear Skies Over Black River is just that, a song you can feel yourself writing, you just didn’t happen to write it, Liam the Younger did.  It’s personal; it’s a musician stark naked with nothing but his guitar; it’s something you’ll want to come back to time and time again.  That’s what great records and songwriters do, and that’s what you have here.

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