CD Review: Album not average folk fare

Willy Mason’s debut record, “Where the Humans Eat,” is a collection of thoughtful tunes from the 20-year-old songwriter that shows an artist speaking far beyond his college age.The record is a fabulous bunch of folk songs with a modern twist. Rather than talk about folk standby topics like tall tales and politics, Mason opts to use the folk form to verbalize the 20-something experience. If nothing else, Mason is undoubtably the first performer to use the name “Ritalin” in a folk song.

Mason received an initial wave of publicity after Conor Oberst, better known as Bright Eyes, praised Mason and signed him to his Team Love imprint. Recently, the disc has been re-released on Astralwerks with an extra track and two new videos.

The disc’s opening track, “Gotta Keep Moving” sets the stage for the entire record. The track features a steady drum beat while Mason reassures the listeners he won’t be staying in the same place for too long.

Most of the tracks on “Humans” were live, one-take recordings, and the sloppiness benefits the album rather than hinders it. In an era when most flaws are covered up with Pro Tools, Mason bears his vocal tics and flubbed guitar notes in full view of the music industry.

The real strength of the “Humans” is in the convincing lyrical writing. In a slow-waltzing ballad, “Hard Hand To Hold,” Mason captures the loneliness of life’s struggles through a series of vignettes. Later in the title track, Mason takes an acquaintance to task.

Mason has often been compared to such legends as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. While its unfair to paint anyone with such an intimidating brush, the comparisons are not too far from the truth. Mason, like Dylan or Guthrie, uses simple words to capture complex truths.

The disc does falter from time to time, however, most notably in “Still a Fly,” which crumbles under the weight of a repetitive chorus and a heavy-hand name check of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

The minor imperfections of youth aside, “Humans” is an utterly listenable disc full of soothing and thought-provoking songs. If this is Mason as a unreliable 20-something, one can only imagine what the coming years will hold for this all-too-talented songwriter.