Willis Earl Beal @ Notting Hill Arts Club

0 Posted by - Apr 22, 2012 - Live music

Back in early March when Willis Earl Beal played a few low-key, low down the bill gigs you had to feel a little sorry for those headlining.  Communion Music had a healthy line up at Notting Hill Arts Club but Willis’s appearance shortly after 7 will surely have left all those following with the sinking realisation that some are imbued with a natural charisma and stage presence that no amount of studio graft or studying your craft can ever hope to match.
Often belting out his songs accapella or with just a reel-to-reel tape machine as backing, its impossible to take your eyes off Willis Earl Beal.  His voice has a power that for all its plaudits failed to come across on his lo-fi debut LP. In fact the live Earl Beal feels like an entirely different artist.

Take “Away My Silent Lover” (below), the version on “Acoustmatic Sorcery” was recorded when he was homeless and leaving demo cd’s around with his phone number inked on.  It has a charm but his voice is thin and the audio quality sounds like someone unearthed a dust covered Robert Johnson 78 by the roadside.

Now listen to the Notting Hill performance of the same song (video below). The voice booms, recalling the early 80’s gospel schooled chicago house vocalists like Robert Owens .  I understand the romance and back story of releasing the demo’s as a debut but you cant help but wonder how incredible it couldve sounded with full production and full voice. The hope has to be that a properly recorded LP follows, allowing Willis’s talent to properly shine.

Earl Beal tried his hand at screen writing and acting under the name Jack Fate (the name of Bob Dylan’s character in the film “Masked and Anonymous”). Under the same name he collaborated with the producer Sleepdeath on a version of  the song “An Evening’s Kiss” which eventually became his debut single on XL (albeit in a demo that probably predates Sleepdeath’s take).  Listen and download the two very different versions below.