Those who’ve seen the whimsical and enthralling folk country storyteller from Arkansas named Willi Carlisle in person will swear by the natural showmanship he exudes, the enchantment of the old traditional songs and tall tales he unearths, and the magnetism of the original songs he composes.
Willi Carlisle is like few things you will experience in music. His songs are strongly literary with rich characters, and his delivery is deeply compelling. And whether he gets you to laughing, crying, feeling unsettled, or infinitely satisfied, Carlisle always leaves a lasting impression.
Of course, capturing all of this in recorded form is a challenge, but believers in Willie Carlisle feel like he’s accomplished this with his upcoming album called Peculiar, Missouri, which will be released via Free Dirt Records on July 15th.
Though he grew up in Kansas and Illinois, Willi found his calling in the Ozarks where the ghosts of of fiddlers and folk tellers are still close, and the land speaks to you deeply. Those familiar with Carlisle’s music won’t be surprised to hear he moved there to teach literature and poetry.
“In the Ozarks, I acclimated to the specifics of the land, like the feel of a dogwood flower, the crush of a magnolia leaf,” Carlisle says. “The way that everything is full of human blood and buds. Pretty much the first moment I got in the Ozarks, I was transported.”
But Willi Carlisle found the literary world to be too stuffy for his liking, thumbing their noses at the salt-of-the-earth poets like Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips, and decided to take up the charge of these lyrical titans by performing their songs and a few of his own, while also speaking to the common struggles we all face, helping to break through the bifurcation of the American culture as opposed to contributing to it.
“They’ve managed to convince people that certain elements of national politics or religious politics are hills that they have to die on,” Carlisle says. “Most Americans have been systematically deprived of any ability to advocate for themselves. The square dance, the concert, the independently owned record store, the coffee shop, the small press, the punk house…These are the places where the right to assemble and think freely is still living against all odds.”
The soul and authenticity inherent in Willi Carlisle’s music is emblematic of the lead single from the new album called “Tulsa’s Last Magician,” inspired after hanging out with a group of magicians in Florida, and exploring the idea of a decaying occupation. The recorded single is compelling enough. But seeing the imposing but gentle 6’4″ Willi Carlisle perform the song via Western AF live (see below) really exemplifies the magic of Willi Carlisle.
Peculiar, Missouri is now available for pre-order.
1. Your Heart’s a Big Tent
2. Life on the Fence
3. Tulsa’s Last Magician
5. Este Mundo
6. I Won’t Be Afraid
7. Buffalo Bill
8. The Down and Back
9. Peculiar, Missouri
10. The Grand Design
11. Goodnight Loving Trail
12. Rainbow Mid Life’s Willow