Willy Mason - If The Ocean Gets Rough

Holly Barnes 03/04/2007

Rating: 4/5

2004: The nineteen year-old Willy Mason's debut album found its way into the world. Where The Humans Eat was a surprise- after all, how on earth could someone of his age sing of hardship and the problems in society in such a natural, unforced manner? Neatly sidestepping cliché and a preaching tone that could have come so easily, Willy's folky songs instead urged compassion and endurance in a voice that didn't judge. “Oxygen” played on repeat on MTV2, becoming an anthem of sorts. “Hard Hand to Hold”, a tale of homelessness and prejudice, came close to discomfiting the listener, but where other storytellers might condemn the reactions of the passers-by, he instead saw through surface actions to deeper anxieties. Willy seemed to understand everyone, and he looked for the best in people despite our innumerable flaws.

2007: The second album is named If The Ocean Gets Rough and continues the message of endurance. It is just what you would expect of him, and there is a moment of déjà vu when the opening track kicks in and mirrors that of his debut: “Gotta Keep Moving” is here supplanted by “Gotta Keep Walking”, which is more relaxed and optimistic than its predecessor. For the most part, the album sort of trundles along- “slow and steady”, but there is variety here- from the prominent female backing vocals and bass line of “We Can Be Strong”, telling of people that are “chasing their tomorrows”, to the hazy lullaby-esque “I Can't Sleep” and stalking, slightly sinister “Simple Town”, which is lifted by delicate harmonies. Touches of mandolin and viola augment songs that surely began life as simply picked-out acoustic guitar folk songs.

Single “Save Myself” is similar to “Oxygen” in many ways; both encourage the listener to sing along with abandon. Willy is critical of the society in which he lives, but his mantra of self-reliance in this song is defiantly American nonetheless and after each line comes the assertion that he has a right and responsibility to raise himself up: “When the culture's drowning in a bad dream (save myself, I've got to save myself)…when the old religion is the new green…when the vultures copyright the word 'free'… we still are searching for liberty, we still are hiding from reality”. Throughout the album, Willy's lazy, sometimes double-tracked, voice is familiar and comforting- like an old friend recalling a memory, unhurried and un-selfconscious. But if he sounds like he's remembering the past, these songs are actually about the future- about what and who we could be if we would just try. The music fits perfectly; it is neither dull nor showy, and stands up to heavy rotation over a month or so, but that's not the point. If you're not listening to the words, you're missing the real beauty of this album.