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Will Varley - 'Spirit Of Minnie' Album Review


1. All Those Stars

2. Seven Days

3. Screenplays

4. Breaking The Bread

5. Statues

6. Spirit Of Minnie

7. Let It Roll

8. Postman

9. Insect

Will Varley release his fifth album on 9th February on the Xtra Mile recordings label. This album is a change from his previous work in 2 regards. Firstly Will is joined by a backing band and secondly, this is a dark reflective album. This is evident with the cover which has a side on portrait of Will brooding in the dark. The album can be summed up by saying that you have a short time to live, and when you do, your dreams will probably come to nothing but disappointment and regret. That is unless of course you are lucky enough to just briefly encounter Minnie. It seems that copious amounts of whiskey and a morose disposition is required to achieve this.

Will has retained his glorious ability to tell a story through thoughtful and wise lyrics and beautiful musicianship. The inclusion of the band did not detract from Will for me but generally enhanced the songs. There were subtle traces of Bruce Sprinsteen, The Stereophonics and the master Folk storyteller Bob Dylan in some of the tracks. The mandolin, piano, lap steel guitar and violins, or should we say fiddles add rich layers onto the tracks, whilst still being an accompaniment to the overall track. Wills vocal changes with almost every song, showing the versatility of his voice.

‘All Those Stars’ starts with a simple drum and acoustic guitar, before the subtle introduction of electric guitar. The full band does not really kick in until the chorus. The lyrics are personal with lines like ‘Lucy says I have been drinking too much, looking for another kind of God’ and 'Amy’s baby just turned 18’. It is as if Will has invited us into his life with a rich gravely folk voice.

‘Seven Days’ is a fuller catchy song and it is not surprising that this has been the first single from the album. It was released with a simple animation video, that was created by Will Varley himself. The use of the band really builds this song and the chorus has a really catchy hook. You will be singing this one in your head for days after hearing it.

‘Screenplays’ starts with a slow mournful piano, and the album now starts falling deeper into the blackness. The song seems to be about the dreams that you have verses the reality of life. The sadness is palpable. ‘Laugh in their faces, Cry in the shadows’ is a great lyric. The Chorus is, again, catchy with the line ‘Just our life passing us by, and we will all write screenplays in the sky’. The musical arrangement is simple.

‘Breaking The Bread’ is a more traditional Folk song, with acoustic guitar and more classic Folk delivery of lyrics. I am not sure if it’s a drum or a bodhran that provides what seems like a heartbeat through the song. Violins kick in halfway through as Will delivers the line ‘And the violins are playing’

Will counts in the band on ‘Statues’ and this is a full band arrangement with some really good lap steel guitar sliding in the background. The opening line is a killer. ‘I put it all……on one last spin…….See I was hopin’……we might be lucky’. Obviously with the regret in his voice, the gamble did not pay off. This track has a far more Americana feel about it, and Will’s vocal again is different. The thread about looking back on life continues with lines such as ‘A decade to me now, is like a summer when I was a boy’ and ‘maybe time is a statue, not a river’. The instrumentation is, again perfect.

The title track has a skipping lyric with the guitar skipping with it. It is a song about loneliness and desperation, as a man is missing his lover and out walking in the rain trying to hail a cab so that he can find a bar to drink himself into oblivion. Again the piano adds to the sense of desperation. The only hope in the album is when the driver tells the narrator about the ‘Spirit of Minnie’, where the whole song lifts like a dream sequence.

‘Let it Slide’ introduces a mandolin into the mix. Who doesn’t like a mandolin with their Folk. ‘Let it roll, Let it roll, Let it slide of control’. Loneliness and desperation now changes into anger. A piano joins the ensemble ‘Someday we must embrace the madness that lives in our brains’. Will’s lyric is delivered with a drunken drawl, which when combined with the mandolin, piano and tambourine in the crescendo, makes you imagine that you have heard this in a spit and sawdust bar at the end of a beer or whiskey filled night.

The ‘Postman’ slows the mood down, and returns to the feeling of desperation. The band slowly builds coming into the track even more. ‘Just before the lightning strikes’. The band build and build as does the sense of anger. The track ends with a real melee of instruments.

Now here is the surprise, most dark albums have an uplifting ending, some redemption or salvation. Not this one! ‘Insect’ is over 6 minutes long. ‘My parents made me out of Alcohol and Boredom. I provided purpose, a distraction for them’. Given the propensity of us to question and explore, ‘Insect’ is about how life drums this propensity out of us. The lyrics are as poetic as they are desperate. The album ends with the heart beating drum.

Will Varley has some high profile admirers, with the likes of Billy Bragg and Frank Turner. Let’s face it they know a thing or two about contemporary Folk storytelling. Who am I to argue with them. This album is not uplifting but it is very good indeed.

'Spirit Of Minnie' consists of 9 slices of reflection which get darker and darker. Each slice is longer with the opening track just over 3 minutes long and the last, over 6! The lyrics convey the pain, regret, desperation and anger of someone looking back at his life and realising that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and if you do see a light, that will be the oncoming train that is about to wipe you out. So I would lower the lights, pour a drink, then hide the bottle and fall into the black hole that Will Varley has created.

Review - Tony Creek

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