Let’s get one thing straight – Willis Earl Beal sounds absolutely bugger all like Tom Waits. I mean not one jot. So it is a bone of contention for me that all and sundry seem to be forever comparing the two. Beal himself may have uttered something at some point about how he has great admiration for the creativity and longevity of the inimitable Californian, and admittedly did say he would like to be remembered as “the black Tom Waits”, but in terms of the music and the frequently pinpointed vocal style, well, he sounds as much like Tom Waits as Geoff Capes looks like Emu.
I wanted to get that cleared up, because I don’t want any Waits fans to be ensnared in the same trap I fell into – thinking “I should love this then”, and expecting some rowdy, raspy, off-the-cuff scatting, or a dramatic cinemascope coupled with lyrics that are humorous, bewildering, paranoid, hard hitting or heartbreaking.
There is none of that here. If you want a reference point, Beal’s sound is closer to that of Otis Redding or perhaps even Al Jarreau. The only vaguely comparable thing, in fact, is that most of the music on offer here is of the same kind of bleary eyed solitude that permeated much of Waits’ earlier work.
This is not a record that teenagers will be running joyfully to their mates’ houses to share, and neither is it likely to find a mainstream, adult audience. No, this type of album requires patience and effort from the listener, despite its easy soul tendencies, which for the most part, all segues smoothly together at its confluence. ‘Like A Box’ is the only one that breaks the relative sedateness with a meaty, beaty glide through heavenly synths before returning to the same gentle zephyr that is as much of a digression as the rest of ‘Noctunes‘ will permit.
This album is perhaps better delved into here and there – playing it in full, after all, has frequently resulted in me thinking “Oh get ON with it” -but ‘Noctunes‘, nevertheless, does have something of a soothing quality that is hard not to admire.