Review: Willi Carlisle sings satirical and populist folk songs
Willi Carlisle’s new album, titled ‘Peculiar, Missouri’, is a collection of campfire folk songs that celebrate love while railing against capitalism, meritocracy, our political divide and the designated hitter.
“Particular, Missouri”, Willi Carlisle (Free Dirt Records)
From a 6-foot-4, 300-pound gay former high school captain who went on to sing Midwestern punk rock, pursue poetry in New York City, then earn a scholarship to teach literature in the Ozarks, this album is what what you’d expect: different.
It’s great too.
Like the prairie pioneers who inform his muse, Willi Carlisle traveled remarkable ground to arrive at “Peculiar, Missouri,” a collection of campfire folks who celebrate love while railing against capitalism, meritocracy, our political division and the designated hitter.
Carlisle’s sharp satire and literary bent separate him from the populist pack. He draws inspiration from the work of Carl Sandburg and ee cummings, rhymes “Bugatti” with “Passamaquoddy” and uses words such as fractal and chlorophyllic.
His range of styles also helps put “Peculiar, Missouri” on the musical map. The anthem ‘I Won’t Be Afraid’ will bring goosebumps with a singalong chorus aided by the voice of Ordinary Elephant, before Carlisle pledges to ‘love whoever I want’. The title cut is a talking blues that takes a pivotal turn in the cosmetics aisle at Walmart, while the banjo “Your Heart’s a Big Tent” offers a group hug. “Life on the Fence,” a tearful waltz about a conflicted bisexual, describes a love triangle in 3/4 time, and the traditional drony ballad “Rainbow Mid Life’s Willow” evokes the Scottish Highlands even as Carlisle pronounces “wallow” like “waller”. .”
Elsewhere, Carlisle sings of a family sawn in two (“Tulsa’s Last Magician”) and the empty allure of the vagabond lifestyle (“Vanlife”), always with a twinkle in its tenor. He also plays a mean button accordion. The former captain deserves a high-five for this entertaining and thought-provoking snapshot of America.
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