The new self-titled release from Willy Porter (Six Degree Records) could be the album that propels him into stardom. Willy is a singer-songwriter, "an acoustic picker with the Olympian speed of Leo Kottke," according to a March, 2001 Boston Globe article reviewing the Jeff Beck show that Willy opened up for. In fact, although you might never have heard of him, Willy has traveled all over the U.S. and supported such musicians as Paul Simon, Sting and Tori Amos. In 2001 alone, he performed over 150 shows.

With his newest release, Willy seems to be vying for a more mainstream sound, perhaps trying to pick up on the phase of current pop music. Singer-songwriter/guitarists happen to be just about the hottest thing on the planet right now with John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Howie Day leading the way.

On the first track of the album, “Breathe,” Willy displays his virtuosity, creating sounds that I've never heard from an acoustic guitar. He gets an absolutely amazing sound out of his Guild, Fender and Bischoff custom guitars. His riffs sound extremely sharp and clear and the overall sound clarity is fantastic. Normally when I hear something on the guitar I can picture in my mind how and where on the guitar it is being played. On “Breath,” I'm completely baffled. It sounds as if there are three guitarists in the room, but actually it’s just Willy.

The next track, “If Love Were an Airplane,” is easily the most commercially viable song and has fittingly been chosen as the first single. Willy is not the kind of artist you are going to hear on bubble-gum pop stations. His songs have been embraced by alternative radio across the country, with “If Love Were an Airplane” distinguishing Porter as the "most added artist to AAA [Adult Album Alternative] radio for the add week of July 22, 2002." Willy's voice, especially on this track, sounds like a cross between Bono and Tom Petty, with a little bit of Thom Yorke thrown in for fun. “Airplane” is a straight-up bonafide pop music hit. With a little help from radio and MTV, Willy could legitimately become the next John Mayer; that is if he wants to be, which I highly doubt. The difference between Willy and all those guys is that Willy seems to take his art very seriously. Not to say that Howie Day and John Mayer don't, but Willy just comes across as more serious and less like bubble gum pop.

Track number five, “Dirty Movie,” is a bizarre tale of a love interest of Willy's that apparently wants to make a "dirty movie" with him. "They can see us if they want to, they can listen if they want to, yah they're just voyeurs in the night. Let's make a movie for the satellite... if they're going to watch, let's give them a show." In this song it seems that the woman is the one who really wants to "make a dirty movie," and according to Willy, "that's alright." The featured girl seems to be really into it, whereas Willy just seems to be going with the flow.

Other stand-outs include “Big Yellow Pine,” a soft ditty that pulls you in with its descriptive tales of love. “All Fall Down,” with its Sheryl Crow-like riff, is also another track destined for FM radio. A very basic tune, with a chorus of "All Fall Down," this is a simple yet effective song. Willy's voice is especially strong on this track and the rest of the musicians are very sturdy. “All Fall Down” was a writing collaboration between Willy, the Barenaked Ladies' Ed Robertson and the Verve Pipe's Donny Brown. Willy uses some very talented musicians on this album including Charlie Drayton (Don Henley, B-52s), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Indigo Girls) and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. All in all, Willy has produced a stunning acoustic album here, with intricate guitar work and melodies as well as some mainstream pop elements. Willy Porter will be all over the U.S. this fall, so go and see a master at work.

Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston
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[Published on: 9/30/02]

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