Album Review – William Beckmann’s “Faded Memories”

photo: Andrew Thorpe

It’s as if a hole was ripped open in the space-time continuum, and out walked some bygone baby-faced character from an era 60 years earlier than the present, serenading our famished ears with classic country songs so fetching in tones, and innocent to the impurities that have ravaged the genre since its Golden age. William Beckmann’s country music beckons to something deep and arcane in the soul, and delivers it sheer classic country music bliss…

…until it doesn’t, and takes a rather strange modern music left turn that leaves you scratching your head, and wondering if a thumb fumble shuffled you onto an entirely different artist. That’s the confounding dichotomy this young man presents with his new seven-song album Faded Memories, taking you from utterly excited at the awesome discovery, to somewhat confused in moments. But ultimately William Beckmann affords enough good songs and moments to not be overlooked.

Cards in the ol’ Saving Country Music suggestion box with Mr. Beckmann’s name on them have been piling up over the last few months, but it wasn’t ignorance as to why comment was reserved on this young artist until now. Yes, his exquisite classic country crooner “Bourbon Whiskey” made it onto the radar of many, and had country connoisseurs singing William Beckmann’s praises as the song showed up via playlists and social media feeds.

But there was a reason some reticence was shown about this artist in this specific corner of the internet. Yours truly had actually screened William Beckmann’s debut album called Outskirts of Town from 2018, and found it quite all over the place in regards to style, and quality. Sometimes rock, sometimes pop, and once or twice country, it found Beckmann searching for his sound while refining his songwriting. It was put together well enough and professionally, but it was more like a worktape in the way William was reaching to find his place in the music world.

When you pull up this new album and hear “Bourbon Whiskey,” followed by the Marty Robbins-feeling rustic and sandy “Danced All Night Long,” you feel pretty confident William Beckmann has found his place in the world, and that’s as a traditional country throwback singer, similar to 2021 discoveries such as Brock Gonyea and Drake Milligan. Unquestionably, Beckmann is tooled to croon out these classic country tunes and make you feel them down to your marrow.

But then as soon as you’ve bought in 100%, you get the ultra-modern radio-sounding track “Follow” that sounds like it fell out of a 3D printer in a Music Row cubicle farm. Maybe not terrible when considered autonomously, but certainly an unexpected sea change, it throws all of your initial conclusions about this artist into question. Now you know why Saving Country Music waited for the full record release to comment.

From there, William Beckmann’s Faded Memories gets better, but with each track borrowing from a separate era and style from the others, though never revisiting the wholesome classic country goodness at the start. Beckmann does show off the better side of his songwriting though, with the rootsy singer/songwriter song “30 Miles” about a small town love touching a nerve and telling a good story, and the lounge mood of “In The Dark” offering another unexpected but adroit stylistic shift.

Beckmann finishes with a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” which after Whitey Morgan, Hellbound Glory, Shooter Jennings and so many more have turned in their country versions, it feels a bit obvious, but the rendition is valiant nonetheless. Really, aside from that third song “Follow,” you end up happy with the results of Faded Memories, even if it only leaves you with five original songs and a cover.

This issue here is that when you shift gears so significantly—and especially when you set classic country as the baseline—you leave yourself open for criticism for a lack of authenticity, and the employment of affectations. Clearly with the resonance of “Bourbon Whiskey,” this is what the audience wants from William Beckmann. After all, classic country is hot right now, and there’s such a small few willing to deliver it, and able to deliver it well like William Beckmann.

But this young man is still clearly trying to find himself, and his sound. The last thing some curmudgeonly critic should want to do is try to suffocate the poor dude’s prospects in the womb when he’s clearly exhibiting talent, and perhaps in superior portions. But classic country fans want to buy into your mythos, close their eyes and pretend it’s 1957, while more modern listeners aren’t really interested in all that hokey shit. This leaves William Beckmann and Faded Memories as a bit of an enigma.

It’s easy for me or anyone else to say “choose a lane” when William Beckmann’s muse might be taking him to who knows where. Originally from the south Texas border town of Del Rio and an understudy of Radney Foster, Beckmann’s also expressed a desire to do more Mexican-themed music in Spanish. So who knows where this might go.

But ultimately, where it is right now actually results in a handful of really good songs. The purists will call him a hipster. The hipsters and others will listen anyway and won’t care because it’s good. And what the future holds for William Beckmann we’ll just have to see. But something tells me, it will be just as unexpected as what he’s doing in the present.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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Play/stream Faded Memories

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