Fishman Artist // Willy PorterIt's been a few miles across America, Canada, the UK and Europe since Willy Porter released his debut CD, The Trees have Soul in 1990. Back then he traveled in his Volkswagen selling discs out of the trunk, mesmerizing audiences with his guitar chops and original tunes. In 1994, he released his second independent CD entitled, Dog Eared Dream. The album marked Porter's artistic growth from his constant touring and a more developed songwriting perspective. The song Angry Words became a top-ten staple on Triple AAA radio stations around the country. This radio success established Porter as a nationally recognized artist, and brought the inevitable major label bidding war to a boil. Dog Eared Dream highlighted his pop songwriting sensibility and also his acoustic guitar work that would grow into a style uniquely his own a mixture of Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Richard Thompson and Lindsey Buckingham. He would ultimately sign with Private Music/BMG in 1995. European and American tours with Rickie Lee Jones, Tori Amos and The Cranberries followed over the next year and a half. Private Music went super nova in 1997, and Porter was left in contractual limbo with BMG. Porter regained momentum in 1999 when he signed with San Francisco based Six Degrees Records and released the folk-pop gem, Falling Forward. Produced by Grammy winner Neil Dorfsman (Dire Straits, Sting), Falling Forward contained the radio friendly tracks Mystery & Cut the Rope. National tours commenced with legendary artists Paul Simon, Sting, Jeff Beck and Jethro Tull.
In 2002, Porter brought seemingly disparate elements together on his eponymous self titled disc, Willy Porter. The album combined his fiery acoustic guitar work with career defining songwriting and vocal work equal parts rock muscle, and folk-based intimacy. Willy Porter showed his growing vocal talents as he sidestepped through various character songs with power and detailed subtlety. In 2003, the solo live album High Wire Live would further forge Porters relationship with his growing audience. It clearly showcased his mastery of the acoustic guitar in his most comfortable environment his live show. When you walk out in front of people by yourself with your instrument, you're walking on a wire, Porter explains. Every mistake you make is out there; it's fantastic, and that pressure is the drug if you will Knowing you have only one shot raises the level of the performance, the intensity, and the adrenaline. On a good night thers a symbiosis between the audience and the musician. Porter continued to stretch over the next couple of years morphing performance art, live audio looping, and improvisational sketch comedy into his solo whistle stops. Each tour date became a unique event, a musical experience much greater than just a review of past, present and future recorded work.
Porter's combined experience at both major and independent record labels ultimately fueled the drive to release a wider variety of music on a more frequent basis, and led Porter to start his own imprint, Weasel Records in December 2005. His latest release, Available Light (Ryko Distribution), features Porter at the peak of his powers as a guitarist, singer, songwriter & recording artist. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, recently described Porter's musicianship this way: Willy Porter's music demonstrates admirably that the technical excellence of his guitar playing will never overwhelm the essence of the song itself. In perfect symbiosis, the disciplines of performance and songwriting combine together to create the unique work for which he is admired by professional peers and audiences alike. Oh and a damn fine singer too. Thank goodness he doesn't play the flute. Porter, 41, lives in Milwaukee, WI and is married with two children.
On the surface, Willy Porter comes full circle with Available Light, returning to where he began when he made his first CD, The Trees Have Soul (1990). Like his debut, Available Light is self-produced and issued on his own label. But in the 16 years, the AAA hit ("Angry Words") and four CDs separating the two releases, Porter has dug in and built on his strengths as a guitarist, singer and songwriter, extending the range and scope of his vision.
Porter has always been in the enviable position of having it both ways as a singer-guitarist, able to play clubs and concert halls with equal confidence, and writing songs for solo performance that could easily be fleshed out in a full band. With Available Light, Porter began with the premise of making a rock recording, a group effort whose songs are arranged not primarily for himself, but for the talents of his touring band. The result is not at odds with the Willy Porter who has gained a network of fans, but is the fruit of a fuller sonic palette, reflecting the colors of great bands from the '60s and '70s and echoing the roots of Americana.
The title track combines atmospheric electric guitar with traditional Travis-style finger picking to create a lush backdrop for the lyrical content of the tune with very few brush strokes. The lyric, "maybe what we don't have, we don't need..." nicely summarizes the pathos of what Porter calls a "folk 'n roll" recording where he and his band move through spartan arrangements with precision and soul. The album also rocks in a way Porter hasn't on record until now.
"Loose Gravel" had been road-tested for years with his band, comprised of Dave Adler (keyboards and co-production), Dave Schoepke (drums and percussion) and Steve Kleiber (bass). It is finally captured here, featuring some swampy lap-steel from Porter, and inventive phrasing from Adler's B-3 organ. "Still Doing Time" is a beautifully pensive writing collaboration with fellow Milwaukee native Paul Cebar, and easily one of the albums brightest moments. It conjures shades of early Neil Young recordings with a distant piano and bone-dry drums. Porter says "Set Yourself Free" is a rock soliloquy, "... to a junkie who won't work on staying clean." The song features some deft electric guitar work from Porter who has often left those chores to others in the past.
Most of Available Light was written and recorded during a time when terminal illness overtook Porter's father. "The songs were all informed by the raw emotions of that time," Porter says. Available Light is no downer, however. The air of sadness that could easily have dominated the disc is replaced by hope, buoyed by promise and redemption on "Reveal" and "Set Yourself Free," with their relaxed alternative-rock drive. The gossamer melody of "Sleepy Little" and the whimsical Leo Kottke-like "Hairball" showcase Porter's strength on acoustic guitar. Lyrically, Porter has balanced internal dialogue with the perspectives of fictional narrators on Available Light. On "Me and My Old Man" Porter is clearly paying homage to his car racing father, while "One More September" is sung form the point of view of a young girl who lost her mother on 9-11. "Still Doing Time" seems to blend autobiography with a universal perspective. Ultimately, everything Porter offers us on Available Light is in service to the same vision. "Life is worth living, and it takes guts to live it to the fullest," he explains.