Monday, November 16, 2009

Will Stratton - No Wonder

The world is not in want of another singer-songwriter. It's with an odd bout of confidence, then, that I admit a certain tenderness toward these songs, some of which were written by the time Will Stratton was 18 and have since transformed beautifully, completely.

At 22, he is highly literate, as articulate as one ought to be when recently shaped by university discussions on literature and liberal politics, and sings with a sleepy delivery that never overpowers his proficient finger-picking. But his style was determined prior to those university courses – as demonstrated in 2007's What the Night Said, first recorded just after high school – and his vocal method is not at all bland, but soothing, and evocative of his naturally soft-spoken manner.

Where Stratton goes wrong – and really, such a term stretches his faults here – is when he attempts to go electric, on “Nineteen,” perhaps his attempt at emulating Big Star, and “If Only,” which is electric in the vein of Conor Oberst rocking out. His type isn't really meant to rock out. But “Robin and Marian,” a song he's been mulling over for some time, has a retro quality like that of the Pretty in Black-era Raveonettes, plugged in and high on treble, Phil Spector-lite, with a character spin that could only be written by a genuine dreamer.

One of the album's best, opener “Who Will,” like a fair portion of this record, falls somewhere between Mazzy Star and early Elliott Smith, and this comparison point is meant in the most complimentary way. The arrangement of brass, guitars electric and acoustic, and backing vocals comes together beautifully, and perhaps the only track more flawless is that rounding out the record, “New Jersey,” a piano ballad on which the tape can be heard rolling, and Stratton declares, with love of his home state, “after we all have left again, I'll walk and I'll walk and I'll come back, you'll see.” Consider me smitten.


Will Stratton - Who Will
Will Stratton - New Jersey
Purchase No Wonder

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