Willy Mason’s deep, rough voice often sounds as if it’s crawling out the throat of a much older man. Just 21, he has a gruff, weathered tone like that of his folk-rock forbearers. And while he is certainly not at Bob Dylan’s level, the lyrics on Mason’s debut, Where the Humans Eat, reflect a level of wisdom and understanding far beyond his tender years.
Discovered by Conor Oberst in New York a few years back, the Martha’s Vineyard native initially released Humans on the Bright Eyes leader’s Team Love label in 2004. Recorded live almost entirely in one-take sessions with Mason’s younger brother on drums, Humans, now being rereleased via Astralwerks, is an extremely raw, lo-fi collection inspired by Mason’s experiences as the son of folk musicians, and as a wandering soul in New York. “Hard Hand to Hold,” one of the album’s standouts, recounts a period Mason spent on the streets with the city’s homeless. “Look him in the eyes / There’s no need to be scared / He’s as powerless as you and me,” Mason sings as he quietly plucks his acoustic guitar, revealing empathy for a facet of life rarely discussed in popular music.
Indeed, Mason seems to belong to a society that doesn’t readily exist in the age of computers and technology. Rather, he might seem more at home in the rootsy, rustic early years of Dylan and Neil Young. While some may claim that Oberst, Mason’s mentor, is the second coming of Dylan, Mason’s thoughtful debut suggests otherwise.
Willy Mason tour dates:
3/4, San Francisco, CA (Bimbo’s 365 Club) * 3/6, Portland, OR (Alladin Theatre) *3/8, Seattle, WA (Neumo’s) *3/10, Denver, CO (Bluebird) *3/12, Washington, DC (9:30 Club) + 3/13, Atlanta, GA (Variety Playhouse) + 3/15, Austin, TX (SXSW) + 3/19, Denver, CO (Gothic Theatre) + 3/20, Salt Lake City, UT (Club Sound) + 3/23, San Diego, CA (House of Blues) + 3/24, Los Angeles, CA (Avalon) + 3/25, San Francisco, CA (Fillmore) + 3/27, Portland, OR (Wonder Ballroom) + 3/28, Seattle, WA (Showbox) + 4/1, Minneapolis, MN (First Avenue) + 4/2, Madison, WI (Barrymore) + 4/3, Chicago, IL (Vic Theatre) + 4/5, Detroit, MI (Majestic) + 4/8, Boston, MA (Avalon) + 4/10, Philadelphia, PA (TLA) + 4/11, New York, NY (Webster Hall) + (* – with Jenny Lewis) (+ – with Beth Orton)