Wilmington Unplugged Feat. Rayland Baxter, Gabriel
Kelley and the Hog Slop String Band and Hayward Williams
8/20 • City Stage • 21 N. Front St #501
6:30 social hour • 7:30 show
Tickets: $10-$15 or $15-$20 day of
Inherent beauty exists in the vast scope of Americana music. Whether evoking a wistful remembrance of time and place, an emotional recollection to a person or incident, or a fleeting moment of yesteryear, its connectivity to our nation’s makeup is as evident as apple pie and baseball.
Milwaukee musician Hayward Williams captures the snapshot of the genre in its most fulfilling listenership. Melodies crest and plunge in a roundabout of love lost and found, self-examination and prowess, and haunting stories of wrongs and rights. Most impressive, his voice has a smoldering sound, thick with appeal. Over three songs, tinges of Beck (“Cotton Bell”), Waylon Jennings (“Devil’s Lament”) and Neil Diamond (“In Doorways”) come through. It’s the most strange amalgamation of range, yet it works.
Williams’ love for music has been a lifelong pursuit—a family affair, even. His first Gibson came from a yard sale his mother scoured. From there, musical memories have evolved forevermore.
“I loved listening to old vocal jazz LPs with my family,” Williams remembers, “and singing with my sisters. We can all harmonize with each other.”
In his current role, apparent mindfulness of structure and accord molds many songs and over a four-album catalog of music: “Uphill/Downhill,” “Trench Foot” (an EP), “Another Sailor’s Dream” and his most recent release, “Cotton Bell.” Progression threads each release—something Williams says is expected of a growing musician.
“My voice has gotten stronger and weaker at times,” he notes. “The ebb and flow of it all is pretty evident in the tone of my records. I don’t ever really see myself staying in one mode.”
Though he’s not sure of the specific direction his music leads, one element maintains itself through it all. “It all starts with a good tune,” he says, flatly. Writing from an inevitable place, Williams admits to the analytical nature in his compositions. Exploration runs thick in his blood, which often makes for the best songs.
“I think I’ve always been inquisitive and curious, and I seem to find myself asking those age-old questions about love, life and death in most of my work,” he says. “Maybe as a younger man I was searching for something, hoping to find an answer. But now I think I know better than to expect a simple answer to complex questions.”
Often such thought processes are enlivened to an anecdote, as is the case for most writers of the Americana genre. Ballads are explored, following a scene in the life of…well, anyone, really. Such is the case in Williams’ “The Ballad of Benson Creek,” off of “Another Sailor’s Dream.”
“I try to tell a story when I can,” Williams says, “and some of my songs have that feel. More often than not, they tend to have an inner emotional monologue describing situations.”
Point in case: “Now the river runs red/but there you are, wading up to your knees.” Vividly portraying someone’s inner struggle, the song’s lyrics are abstractly engaging. Yet, the musicality of it—soft acoustic riffs and one lone voice—along with Williams’ knack for poetic flair, offer a complete story for one’s imagination to explore. That seems to be the invocation of his brand of Americana, a personal nature, a connection that he and his audience share. “It can be both new and nostalgic at the same time,” he says.
Having played with his backing band for a year now, Williams has toured worldwide, finishing up a stint in Australia last spring. “Touring tends to take a lot out of me,” he admits, “but because of that I tend to reap the benefits of being worn out and write a good song or two.”
Aside from thrilling audiences stateside or elsewhere, the music engages and allures. The dreamy pedal steel and slant rhythms of the dobro, whether sped up with a light brush of the drums (“Careful, Please”) or slowed down with subtle rhythmic pace and callback piercing chords (“Lazarus”), it covers an amplitude of sound. Which is something impressive, too, considering the short time Williams and company have had to conjoin their sound.
“I’ve been playing on and off with them for a year or so, depending on the venue I’m in,” he says. “They have greatly contributed to the feel of my new record, [“Cotton Bell,”] as they are first and foremost a rock ‘n’ roll band.” It’s apparent, too, as they tend to characteristically speed up some of the tunes. “It gives more of an edge [to my music,]” Williams explains, “and it’s just really fun being loud every now and then.”
Though working on a new record—”or two or three”—Williams has found time to make his debut in town at City Stage during Wilmington Unplugged, on Saturday, August 20th. Unplugged’s promoter, Billy Mellon, clearly couldn’t be more thrilled to have him on the same bill featuring Rayland Baxter and Gabriel Kelley’s bluegrass outfit, Hog Slop String Band.
“I’ve been tirelessly trying to get [Williams] on the Unplugged stage,” Mellon says—“simply beautiful songwriting, singing and guitar playing. He does an amazing version of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road,’ too.”
To hear it, along with the other musicians packing the bill, get a $10 (general admission) or $15 (lower level/table seating) ticket ahead of time by contacting Mellon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Day of show tickets increase to $15 and $20.