Willy Mason – If The Ocean Gets Rough

willy-mason-ocean.jpgWilly MasonIf The Ocean Gets Rough (Astralwerks)

Here’s the thing: if Willy Mason would have kept his mouth shut about his age on the lyrics to If The Ocean Gets Rough, I would have pegged the guy to be in his thirties or forties based on his voice alone. Mason possesses one of those rare gifts in the world of singer-songwriters: a recognizable voice capable of some unique perspectives and credibility.

At the same time, that credibility is immediately diminished the moment he utters a line like “Now I’m back on Mama’s couch / Plenty of time to think about / All of the kids that went the college route / Chasin’ their tomorrows” (“We Can Be Strong”). No shit Sherlock, if I had chops like your 22-year-old-Martha-Vineyard-raised-ass, I’d gladly crash on Mom’s couch while I work on the whole troubadour shtick.

But then the infectious chorus of “We Can Be Strong” hits and you’re ready to forgive Willy for pretty much anything. When “Save Myself,” the song immediately following “Strong,” rolls around, you’re starting to believe the hyperbole of a press release.

As a matter of fact, If The Ocean Gets Rough has a pretty awesome middle section that starts with “Strong” (track 3) and ends right before the title track (track 8). The rest of the album finds the kid overreaching (“When The Leaves Have Fallen”) and/or settling for adult-alternative obscurity (“The World That I Wanted”).

And settling is not a good decision for Willy Mason, particularly when there are others around the same age mining similar strategies (Conor Oberst), sharing similar gifts (William Elliott Whitmore), and doing it much, much better.

I would pin every flaw on “youthful inexperience” here, but Mason makes it such a point to sound grown up on Ocean to label it as such would probably offend him and, to be fair, wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Mason could be twenty years older and I still think we’d see the same flaws that we’re seeing here at age twenty-two. It’s bound to happen to anyone, regardless of age, who tries to take generations of acoustic folk influences and blueprints while attempting to meld it with modern perspectives and struggles. Imagine how uneventful that direction becomes when said struggles don’t seem to be all that noteworthy.

Mason shines when he allows himself to follow the obvious pop influences, and who knows, he may strike gold someday by pursuing those directions. After all, the world can always make room for another smart young pop musician, but we’ve already got plenty of unremarkable folk artists to choose from.

If the ocean gets rough? Please. Mason needs to start seeing how calm the seas around him really are.

MP3: Willy Mason – ” When the River Moves On”

Willy Mason – “Save Myself”

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