An unusual album, Peculiar, Missouri is also one of the freshest and most honest folk albums I’ve encountered the last decade.
Inspired by the Ozark region we love, Willi Carlisle embraces the traditions of Guthrie, Phillips, and McCutcheon and bring the methods they mastered over decades screaming into the palate of modern roots music: Old Weird Americana, I would suggest.
The loping talking blues of “Van Life” and the title track inform about ways of life many of us can hardly relate, the freedom and humanity of life toward the fringe where hypocrisy is a tad easier to identify. And yet…given the trustworthiness of Carlisle’s writing and natural qualities of his singing, one easily identifies the longing for home, a strong desire for acceptance and trust that is woven through his lyrics.
“Este Mundo” touches on the lives of farmers and corporate greed, with “Life on the Fence” and “Your Heart’s A Big Tent” plainly identifying angst—of conviction, of queer life, of love that may not be certain, of relationships facing challenges. “The Grand Design”—“All I asked of you is your better years, all I know how to do is waste ‘em”—captures honest truth in limited words. “I Won’t Be Afraid Anymore”—“Lord knows I’ve done some dumb shit, and I plan to do some more, but I won’t be afraid anymore”—is another song that plainly addresses our yearning quality to do better, and our inevitable challenge of falling far short, usually through conscious decision-making.
Completely original, even when borrowing from e e cummings, Carl Sandburg, Alemda Riddle, and Utah Phillips, Carlisle has created an old-time album for contemporary circumstances. Utilizing stringband instrumentation—pedal steel, drums, a bit of fiddle, banjo, and accordion, acoustic and electric guitars—this set of a dozen creative and inspired songs give us hope that things don’t always have to sound the same, that inspiration wins out over design: not often, mind—but frequently enough to keep us looking. And listening.
Within “Your Heart’s a Big Tent,” Carlisle sings, “Just sing until you love yourself, and love until you die.” Fair good advice, that. Not the only wisdom within Peculiar, Missouri.
Reviewed from download.