- Thursday, February 10
21+. Free Show
William Russell Wallace website
Spitting and quivering his narrators’ insecurities into the mic, William Russell Wallace’s new album, Confidence Man conjures the desperation of down-and-out reprobates and the sound of bar stools scraping the floor mid-brawl. Confidence Man‘s sharp wit, pounding country-rock riffs, and earnestness bely a man fascinated by the gutter but too inward-looking to romanticize it. To hear it from Wallace, his characters often “…think they’re a ‘man’s man’, but are really like ‘come on; love me. Please.’” “ Equal parts Hamilton Leithauser’s theatrical yowl, Patrick Stickles’ growl, and mid-career Tom Petty’s bar-band tunefulness, Wallace has created an album indebted to his musical loves, but with a unique narrative style entirely his own. Having served for a time as Tim Barry’s touring bassist, it’s no wonder that Wallace is able to capture a similarly spirited energy throughout.
Coming on the heels of his critically acclaimed album Dirty Soul, Confidence Man is set to find its place in the musical landscape through its infectious melodies and thoughtful craftsmanship. Each song gleefully shreds Americana’s more refined aspects and replaces them with punk and keen-eyed satire, giving his protagonists the tendency to shiver and shake, to fight, weep, and bleed. In fact, Wallace himself might say it best in “Just a Little Joy (But It’s a Real Big Deal)” when he sings, “Because these are desperate times/You’re looking at a desperate man.” Indeed, his true gift lies in his marriage of this gravitas with humor, never growing heavy-handed or allowing his jokes to go on for too long. Under the auspices of titles like “Mormon Cocaine” and “Roanoke (Resolution Blues),” Wallace’s rakish protagonists may break bottles or hearts, but they do so with a self-awareness that underscores the singer’s understanding of what is human and breakable in all of us.
Other tracks, like chugging rocker “Fire Season,” combine a knack for melody without losing any of the album’s raucousness– a delicate balance rarely accomplished outside of indie-folk greats like Wilco or The Old 97’s at their most wirey. The album itself concludes with a poignant and enigmatic cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason,” suggesting what The Velvet Underground may have sounded like if Mark Knopfler had been their guitarist and they recorded in a beautiful underwater soundscape.
Bouncing between Ohio and California, the album was recorded with a variety of different rhythm sections and helping hands. A self-proclaimed student of Tom Petty’s ouvre, these songs drip with the sleaze of Petty’s drawl and rollick with the playfulness and buoyancy of Bruce Springsteen’s pre-Born to Run output. Opener “Recklessly” has Wallace intoning with mic-throttling intensity the story of a protagonist’s gluttonous reckoning, all set to raw, craggy guitars – the sound of pain itself being exercised. On the aforementioned “Just a Little Joy…” Wallace even curates the musical equivalent of the song’s melancholy lyrics as the organ dances playfully before its melody swells with sadness. Songs like these serve to highlight that he is not only a gifted storyteller, but also a masterful band leader, orchestrating and imbuing each song with the same sense of dejected revelry as his characters.
Confidence Man serves to join the long line of albums by Alex Cameron, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, and Tom Petty in detailing the inner and outer lives of those we deem “low-life.” However, unlike, say, Randy Newman, Wallace’s fascination comes from a deep concern for his characters and their human wreckage.