Baroque Alt-Banjo... but good!
One of the best things about following music is that, every now and then, you discover there was a need for something you didn't even know existed. Case in point: Willie Ames.
Ames has exploded onto the scene in the last couple years, apparently trying to fuse Charlie Daniels, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Mark Knopfler into a new kind of Super-Folk. He may well be succeeding. He came out of nowhere four years ago, and is now poised to be a hit on multiple lists at once.
One of many remarkable things about Ames is that, for a man whose music is 90% about a guy and his banjo, it's rather hard to pin him down to one style. Ames' banjo skills are superb, and frequently stunning. On solo-instrumental tracks, he gets multiple levels of polyphony going, at times keeping three or four lines running in parallel in neo-Baroque exercises. Yet he's just as comfortable about throwing some good down-home finger-picking, or launching into a progressive noodling stretch that would make Steve Howe smile.
The range of his songs, similarly, brings a lot more to the table than one might expect. “Night Owl” is a gritty, slightly sarcastic piece that would sound at home coming from the Drive-By Truckers. Then a few tracks later, “Dance With You” proves a very pretty and satisfying ballad with a hint of English twee... New English twee, anyway.
Ames' lyrics don't disappoint either, combining lyricism and poetic qualities from a dozen sources. “Neanderthal” stood out for me, painting a dark, subtle, and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a character somewhat like the Beatles' Nowhere Man. On the other hand, his “Human Race” is performed in a nearly rap-like patter, in a track that aspires to be an anti-cynical anthem. His voice flows from gravel to groove as needed, effortlessly.
The non-acoustic tracks feature extremely tasteful, restrained production throughout. A tinkle of honky-tonk piano here, a little bit of echoplex there... it enhances the music in numerous subtle ways throughout, but without ever taking the focus away from Ames and his own performance.
Willie Ames is an amazing new talent begging to be heard, whose only flaw may be that his broad reach will confound marketers. If he can just get a toehold in the public ear, his potential is gigantic.
Ames talks about his experience touring - "The worst part was living out of my car while the best part was experiencing true freedom! From those dark and lonely nights without a shower I woke up knowing I had another exciting road trip ahead of me. To randomly discover the next big city or small town USA! I went where the wind took me and when I got there, I'd find some type of gigging situation.
"I'd perform my tunes for the good local folks and share copies of my original CD while receiving the unexpected joys of a place to stay. I'd sometimes find a sponsored or donated hotel room, and ultimately a shower! The greatest joy was when I realized I had reached all 48 mainland states, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, and that I had toured Canada and Australia as well. Then to wind up back home in southern California and receive several music awards, not only for my musicianship, but also for touring all 50 United States!
"I supported my travels directly from monies received from performance tips, paid gigs, and CD sales, which was a great joy in itself, truly earning it from the music and live performances! You can see I snapped a photo of myself next to all 50 State's welcome signs in the photo album titled "USA State Welcome Signs" at myspace.com/willieames.