Willy Mason – Carry On

With half a decade gone by since the release of the last album from 28-year-old Martha’s Vineyard crooner Willy Mason, it would have been reasonable to assume that – talented tyke though he was – he’d gone and given up on the music industry, trading in his guitar for a MacBook and switching his honeyed baritone for dreary shoptalk.

Fortunately, it seems Mason has simply been experimenting with creative hibernation for the past five years, rather than sacking off songwriting for good.

Following the occasional EP release, a collaboration with Lianne La Havas, and a year of high-profile shows including gigs with Mumford & Sons and Ben Howard, Mason’s more than reclaimed his stake on the live scene. But what of his new material?

Carry On is Mason’s third album in all, following his 2004, Conor Oberst-approved debut Where the Humans Eat and its 2007 successor, If the Ocean Gets Rough. Though recorded with Kylie and Hot Chip producer Dan Carey in South London, it’s far from an attempt at electro-pop.

However, Carey’s gallant use of drum boxes and occasional, restrained glitchy sonics – like on the carousing Pickup Truck and undulating Into Tomorrow – round out Mason’s sound, bringing a raft of rousing fresh dimensions to his previously straight-up folksy stylings.

There are other subtly experimental moments strewn across the album’s 11 tracks. Talk Me Down opens with Tom Waits-worthy clatters and percussive, primal bangs that are balanced out by Mason’s dreamy way with a delicate, unobtrusive melody. The dub beats on Restless Fugitive also come in directly from left field to make for a heady, hypnotic six minutes.

Stark, stripped-back beauty has its place here, too. Show Me the Way has a timeless, tragic Carter Family air, whilst the title track is an elegiac blues ballad that sees Mason bemoaning his lot, and of spending his young life “chasing dreams that end in pain”.

Conversely, If It’s the End might begin with the image of a corpse floating off down a river, but as Mason audibly perks up singing “if it’s the end, it’s not the only end / let it begin, let it unfold again,” it’s impossible not to do the same.

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