Willis Earl Beal - Nobody Knows


Ever heard the saying; “You’ve gotta put your behind in your past”? If you know anything about Willis Earl Beal, then you can see where this might be heading. The Chicago born lo-fi/bluesy/soul singer has recently released his second album, Nobody Knows, and from the looks of it he hasn’t quite shrugged loose the infamous backstory that sits hand in hand with his career.

The follow up to 2012’s Acousmatic Sorcery, shies away from this history, and takes full advantage of his newfound resources (actually being recorded in a studio and funded by a label). While the concept perhaps hints at his past it’s a far cry from the intimate, home-recorded sound of a year ago.

In case you didn’t know, the ex-military Beal found himself in a homeless stint back in 2007, subsequently working in an array of menial jobs before appearing on X-factor USA. He quickly dropped out and released his material on CD-Rs, which, to cut a long story short was eventually picked up by Hot Charity. Now that’s the past and out of the way, lets talk about Nobody Knows.

The record opens with a soulful a cappella number, ‘Wavering Line’, which in a sense is chilling yet emotive, while its fade out introduces the produced sound we have been waiting for - a mix of deep and high strings that make it warm and comforting. Unfortunately it’s a sound that doesn’t last too long on this record. ‘Coming Through’ features the lovely Cat Power, with a Motown-esc backing that is groove-worthy, but as it transcends into ‘Everything Unwinds’, it’s pretty clear that the tone of the album has been set: dark, emotive and a tad depressing.

‘Disintegrating’ is a harrowing soul-shaker, while ‘Too Dry To Cry’ is a standout on Nobody Knows. Beal’s poetic lyricism is punchy as the smooth, bluesy backing falls away leaving, “I got nine hard inches/ Like a pitchfork prong/ So honey lift up your dress/ And help me sing this song.” It’s raw and raunchy like the sound it produces, proving that the singer still has more soul than a sock with a hole.

While ‘Ain’t Got No Love’ and ‘Nobody Knows’ host the same outstanding and harrowing vocals that Beal is known for, it’s hard to keep attention as the second-half completely mellows out, mimicking the same themes and sounds as the tracks before.

As the closing notes of last track ‘The Flow’ finally end, you can’t help but feel the infinite dregs finally lift. Nobody Knows has its low and high points, but its not one to listen to all at once. As much as Beal’s outstanding vocals carry the tracks — from his gruff blues howls to smooth poetic ballads — it’s lacking in the expansion of what he is capable of, rather than sticking to some traditional ideals with a mix of this and that.

Watch the video for 'Coming Through', below.

By Josie Faulkner