Before releasing his debut album, Acousmatic Sorcery, early last year, Willis Earl Beal declared “I want to be like the black Tom Waits, I don’t want to make one kind of sound”. That was a pretty apt description of his music at the time but remains true only in part with his latest effort, Nobody Knows.
In tracks like ‘To Dry To Cry’ and ‘Ain’t Got No Love’, Waits’ romping stomping influence is there in full, and with lyrics like “I ain’t got no love ‘cos I slapped it around/ Yes, I’m in transition goin’ town to town ” and “Got a roll of cash in the side of my sock/ Sipping Colt 45 in the lot kicking rocks” it’s clear Beal is still playing the archetypal roving bluesman. But on the whole the album is much less experimental and much more cohesive – less decidedly out there and more fixed to genre.
Where Beal’s writing has developed the most is also the most rewarding. A cappella opener ‘Wavering Lines’ is likely the best and biggest surprise of the album. It’s a beautiful and softly sung track, which suggests that rather than just playing at forlorn blues and soul, Beal has something very real to offer these genres.