Willie and the Giant drop a double shot of vintage rock and soul, tastefully wrapped and carried like a party gift into the now.
Upon first listen, one might find an instant similarity to the recent works of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. But, in calling them another alt-country band would be amiss as they write high-quality pop songs lush with smooth guitars, a Hammond B3 organ, and some horns. Willie and the Giant (WATG) also blend the soulful sounds of Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals with some Sam Roberts Band styled indie-rock, fused together with good old-fashioned bluesy-jazz tinged, lo-fi jam music a la the Black Crowes or the Allman Brothers.
According to WATG, open up the record and you’ll find a few key ingredients missing from a lot of todayâ€™s music: space, warmth, and dynamic range. Their self-titled debut begs to be played on vinyl through a hot tube receiver and some boxy hi-fi speakers.
The retro-minded Nashville band cut these new songs at all-analog studio,Â Welcome to 1979, where an impressive list of legends and contemporaries have recorded before them: Todd Snider and Dave Schoolsâ€™ Hard Working Americans, The North Mississippi All-Stars, Those Darlins, Jason Isbell, and even Animals frontman, Eric Burdon.
â€œWe wanted that warm, saturated sound that you can only get from tape,â€ frontman Will Stewart says, â€œand Welcome to 1979 specializes in just that. It was cozy, too. Everything there is intentionally stylized to take you four decades back in time.â€
â€œIt definitely felt like a special place,â€ adds six-foot-five lead guitarist Jon Poor (aka The Giant). â€œFrom the minute we walked in, we were instantly at ease.â€
This positive feel carried over to the sessions, which found the Nashville groupâ€™s Alabama roots on prominent display. Both Stewart and Poor were veterans of the Birmingham scene before relocating to Nashville, striking up a friendship and starting Willie and the Giant. For their self-titled debut, the bandâ€™s two singer-guitarists, plus bassist Grant Prettyman and drummer Mac Kramer were joined in the studio by friend and â€˜Bama staple Matt Slocum, who tours with Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson, on keys.
Everything was recorded live together in the same room: Slocumâ€™s sparkling Hammond B3 organ, Perrymanâ€™s in-the-pocket grooves, Kramerâ€™s ebullient, driving beats, Poorâ€™s soulful Stratocaster licks and Stewartâ€™s silky and expressive lead vocals.
â€œWhen we play, we really feed off of each other,â€ Poor says. â€œSo this approach was perfect to capture our sound and really bring that human element to it. Most of our all-time favorite records, if you go back and research them, were done live, and we wanted to emulate that.â€
The spontaneous results offer up plenty of eclectic magic; sweltering swamp grooves, dark and lonesome spaghetti-Western tunes offset by feel-good soul-pop ditties, gorgeous dueling guitar melodies, fist-pumping no-frills American rock & roll, glammy â€˜70s rave-ups, fiery Southern anthems, and stadium-ready psychedelic blues epics.
â€œThis record is a culmination of the band writing and arranging together for the last year,â€ Stewart says. â€œItâ€™s a blend of our personal playing styles and influences, which continue to change and evolve as we learn each otherâ€™s tendencies. The songs are diverse, stylistically, but still find cohesion through the production and the way they were recorded. We wanted the sound to be uniquely our own without being overly referential and I think we achieved that.â€