So after my trip down memory lane with The Slim Shady LP, I go back to a bit of folk/rock with Grant-Lee Phillips and his new album Widdershins. As you know I love most music that has an acoustic as the lead, and catchy lyrics and songwriting, and I definitely get that with this album.
With lyrics that look into the problems we are having today, and as Phillips said when asked, “I made a commitment to myself not to sink into despair: I’m tracing a longer narrative here. We’ve been through some of this before-not just our country, but the civilization as a whole“. Put that together with really catchy chord progressions that must have been fun to play and you have a very enjoyable album.
We start with “Walk in Circles“, which is a really upbeat fast tempo acoustic track about history repeating itself with the title giving this away. With Grant’s gritty vocals,this adds to the thoughtful feeling of this song and sets the stage for what the whole album is about.
On “Unruly Mobs“, we go downtempo and it really feels more relax than the opening track, as it looks into the how protest is good and everyone shouldn’t be against it. The song comes with technical acoustic melody and the chorus really does stay with you at the end and make you think.
But we go on to my favorite track off this album, titled “King Of Catastrophes” which is another slow tempo but I like that without the acoustic, it is still a solid track which I always like about this song.
The highlight for me, is the line at the beginning, “you’re talking to the Kind of Catastrophes“, which really sets the mark for this song about the bad times in America and how to survive days like these, you have to use your head, which he expands on throughout the song, using these vivid lyrics. With the nice chord progressive added to these lyrics, the song is surely a highlight.
“Something’s Gotta Give” is more of same, with the tempo and chord progression, which is really good but doesn’t add a lot, but Grant’s vocal hits higher notes on this song, which is a nice change from what we’ve heard so far, and the chorus line “Something’s gotta to give” stays in your head, long after the song ends.
We go upbeat once again with “Scares Stidd” which looks into the idea of being scared and saying no more to being so scared. With its nice straight-up rock feel, this would sound great live. Considering a negative feeling, the upbeat music makes sure you don’t feel that way, when listening to it. I like songs that do that, and it works well here.
On “Miss Betsy“, we go for a love song that does, at times, feel more like a ballad than a statement on what the world is like, and yet again a catchy chord progression that really works with Grant’s voice. The use of string arrangements in the background really brings out the emotion.
“The Wilderness” returns to the more upbeat feel of the record. The song is catchy as always, and with the drums beat as well, you really want to start dancing. The sound of the guitar and the solo in the bridge really makes this one of my favorites and the chorus line “we never leave the wilderness” is another great line for him.
“Another, Another, Then Boom” has the same organic feel as “King of Catastrophes”, this may be down to the similar chords he was using, but this gets a bit more upbeat. It’s still a good record, and I could see this being used in a video montage of the problems he has in his country. There’s nothing new with the instrumentation, but it is a nice addition to this album.
“Totally You Gunslinger” is a nice old western type of song. Lyrically, it keeps with the musical theme, and looks at the old west and not going back to those days. This song works on the strengths of Grant’s singing and musicianship, and it does have very similar structure with previous tracks on the album, it is still really nice to listen to, and is very enjoyable.
Grant slows things down again with the relaxing song “History Has Their Number” which would be great to walk down the street to, with its nice melody and bassline going through it, it really makes you feel good about yourself.
We end this album with a change of style, as both “Great Acceleration” and “Liberation” have a nice indie feel to them, and they both, some way, work with Grant’s vocals, as he really goes all out with these songs. “Great Acceleration” has a nice lead with bassline, while “Liberation” does the same, but with a better chorus – “Great Acceleration” is my favorite of the two, but both are a great end to a great solid album overall.
I do like a bit of folk-rock now and then with it not always being my cup of tea, but this album stands out for me with really strong lyrics, catchy chord progressions and nice instrumentation in the background. If you like folk or a bit of rock then this album you should check out, definite tracks for essential listening include “King Of Catastrophes”, “The Wilderness”, and “Great Acceleration”.
Grant-Lee Phillips’ Widdershins is out now on Yep Roc Records, purchase it on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Stuart Irvine