Last year around this time I was hearing a lot of buzz surrounding a show at Double Door. I’d never heard of the artist, Willis Earl Beal, but it seemed like everyone and their sister was going to be at the show to witness what many were referring to as “the hottest show of the year.” I have no idea if it lived up to that hype, but the name definitely stuck with me, and after hearing his new album Nobody Knows, I can safely assume that it was at least ONE of the hottest shows of the year.
Nobody Knows is a big step up from Beal’s last record, Acousmatic Sorcery, as far as production goes. It feels closer to what I imagine Beal probably hears in his head when he’s writing the music, and I hope we get a lot more of what he creates. Not many artists have the guts to open up an album with a three minute song that only features his voice. It’s that rawness, with everything else stripped away, that gives us an intimate look into his soul.
“Wavering Lines” is as good an opener as you’ll hear this year, but Nobody Knows gets better the further you dig in. I won’t get into Beal’s backstory, but it’s a great one. Most of the album fixates on his voice, and he perfectly communicates every heartbreak, every hardship, and every second of joy.
This is definitely a record you need to discover for yourself. I don’t think anything I say here can fully articulate how ridiculously talented Beal is, or how great Nobody Knows plays out. I don’t even have a comparison to give you. His voice has that old soul sound of guys like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, but he also gets bluesy like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and John Lee Hooker. It’s probably tough to say he sounds like anyone because he is so unique. You can buy Nobody Knows tomorrow, so just do that and then we can talk about it some more.