Will Johnson – Scorpion

Rating: ★★★ · ·

Will Johnson is one of the most active musicians in the state of Texas, and, well, out of it too; he’s the main man for Centro-matic and he played drums on tour for Monsters of Folk.  But, I’ve always had an affinity for his solo work, ever since I first put on Vulture’s Await.  On Scorpion, his new solo record, we’re once again treated to an intimate affair, one that’s ultimately heartfelt and captivating.

If you’re not accustomed to Will Johnson‘s music, then you might be taken aback a bit at first when you press play to hear the first track, “You Will Be Here, Mine.”  True, it’s a pained rasp, but the more you listen, the more it becomes one of the most endearing voices you’ll hear.  This particular track has Will crooning as a very down-trodden percussive element backs his careful guitar picking.  You’re not going to feel uplifted here, but you’ll find personal solace in this tune.  Oh, and the semi-eruptive closing is quite beautiful. Similarly, “Bloodkin Push (Forget the Ones) takes a down turn in tempo, with Johnson’s voice clearly remaining the key instrument in the track; there’s also a faint backing vocal that truly helps deepen the mood.

I kept looking for a remake of “Vultures Await,” though admittedly that’s not fair to expect from an entirely different collection of songs, especially when the songwriter seems to put so much of his person in his songs.  There are a few tracks that near the perfection of the aforementioned number such as “Blackest Sparrow/Darkest Night” and “Truss of Ten.”  The former features a calm delivery, which reveals the faintest hint of Will’s natural vocal melody; this is the voice that has affected me for so long.  On the latter of the two tunes, there’s barely any instrumentation, aside from muted guitar strokes that eventually make way for some light picking.  However, this song is all about the vocal performance, with Will again joined by a counterpart with a softer side, contrasting his harder edge.

By and large, Scorpion is much quieter than the last full-length project.  Where the past efforts saw his voice attempting to soar, Will seems much more alone here.  You can’t help but be drawn in by a track “Scorpion,” even though there’s not much to the track itself.  A bit of far off tinkling piano, some backing vocals and gentle strummed guitar are all that exist to show us that Johnson’s not entirely alone out there.  This is about as personal an experience as a listener can get nowadays, as if he’s writing these tracks in the back of your house while you sit outside the door.

This listening experience is quite different than where I feel like I expected it to go after fawning over Will Johnson‘s previous works, both with band and without.  While I appreciate a more musical approach, I think Scorpion succeeds in being the exact opposite.  It’s a record you want with you while you’re alone, giving you the feeling like you have someone with whom you can share your solitude.  There’s no way you can listen through this whole record without having a huge emotional reaction, and I’m always thankful Will can provide us with that.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/01-You-Will-Be-Here-Mine.mp3]

Download:Will Johnson – You Will Be Here, Mine [MP3]

 

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