Funny. In this day and age I always think I'm pretty much done with anything acoustic guitar-oriented and then someone pops up with something which sticks in my craw until I am forced to listen. I am always telling people that I've been Americana'd and Canadiana'd and Australiana'd to death and many of my friends echo the sentiment, usually with phrases like "who invented that f**king banjo, anyway? Find out and let's dig him up and kill him!" Which doesn't mean that they don't listen to anything banjo. It just means that they, like myself and ukuleles, wish musicians would use them more sparingly or even properly. I mean, there are times for banjo and times for not so much banjo. Same with ukuleles.
Not that anyone cares what I think, I suppose. We all draw our lines in the sand. I drew mine before I came across Willie Ames' Night Owl album and am now looking back at other lines and see that the beach is overrun with scratch marks I've jumped over. I'm glad of it, on the whole, because that means that music has not begun to stale on me. And if that is not the correct use of the word "stale", that fits right in with this album because ol' Willie ain't a perfectionist, though his fingerpicking technique comes damn close. Come to think of it, maybe he is a perfectionist in that he knows that perfection is boring by definition when it comes to music. I mean, he plays the hell out of his chosen instrument of the moment(s), the parenthetical "S" there because he plays all stringed instruments on the album and in places it sounds like there are three or four.
Ames evidently has played just about everywhere it seems and most of my friends know about him, but I hadn't until I heard this. What did I hear? A folk-oriented album that wasn't really folk in most places. More of a rambling musical storytelling venture with picking fingers everywhere. Ames knows his way around a guitar or a banjo, for sure. And he knows how to write songs and tell stories. He proves it right upfront with the odd talking Americana-ish Human Race, a song but not a song. It is more a musical statement about, not surprisingly, the human race, and it is a statement we have heard all too often but here is actually fresh.
Ames packed Night Owl with a string of musical statements—statements all his own. And the really cool thing is that he doesn't do it all acoustically. I mean, I love acoustic instruments but goddamn, after awhile I hanker for that electric buzz. Ames uses whatever it takes to make the song and he makes some beauties. The title track, for instance. There is a foreboding feel to it, thanks to a deep echo on the guitar and lyrics which makes survival a life and death match. He doesn't pack around all of those guitars for nothing (his resume has him all over the globe at all times), using a simple acoustic for a classical/folk instrumental titled Walk in the Park. The title says it all.
Anymore, I look at acoustic fests as moodscapes. I have been surrounded by so much music over the years that if the music is truly acoustic, my ears look for the feel of the song. Ol' Willie has the talent to actually override that "zoning out" tendency. Perhaps it is his fingerpicking style (he is quite impressive) or maybe it's just the fact that he is one step to the side of most folkies, but I find myself listening in a different way.
I guess you could take my word for it, but you don't really have to. A few of my friends very well acquainted with Mr. Ames says that he is always on the road—that he practically lives on the road—and will pass by eventually. After hearing this album, that's what I'm counting on. I like it a lot. Something leads me to believe that after I see Ames play live, I will like it even more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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