"It's one of those hot nights, dry and windless. The kind that makes people do sweaty, secret things."
When Bill Walkers latest album ‘Sanctuary’ starts, the mood is instantly set with the brooding, moody ethereal opener, ‘Little Twisters.’ Rain soaked streets with street lights pooling on the damp, isolated intersections, vacant lots, windows with no occupants, run-down buildings, back alley rendezvous, uptown double dealings, downtown consequences, fast times, bad times, good times, dangerous women and a lone hero: weathered, worn and with just enough grit to drown his sorrows in cheap whiskey and muster the strength to make things right, or go down trying.
Throughout the just-shy-of-seven-minutes opener a driving rhythms speeds us through the underbelly and empty streets of a city has both out stayed her welcome, and long since had her glory days behind her. Walker’s reverb-laden guitar gives us small melodies that come and go like lights reflecting off a windshield but the melodies and textures delivered aren’t without consequences or with permutations that revisit the listener later on liike vivid memories that come flooding back and die out in the same breath. Textures utilizing both filters and reversed playback that keep you just off center with the next melody or sheet of sound - the only thing that is capable of breaking you fall.
‘Little Twisters’ is a soundtrack to an unseen post-modern film noir that could easily features the hallmarks of any film noir double feature. The femme-fatale, the charming yet dangerous antagonist and the world-weary private eye that dances cheek to cheek every night at the Blue Bongo Room with a bottle of Jack and makes it home by sunrise to a breakfast of cold coffee…and doubt. ‘Little Twisters’ could easily subplant any of the music from the movie ‘Drive.’ With it’s ambient textures, the driving electronica rhythms and Walker’s use of the volume pedal (see: master class), it could easily find it’self in the next chapter of the unnamed Drive(r) series. ‘Little Twisters’ ends with a the tempo, volumes and textures getting slower until we are brought back with rhythm taking the spot light from melody and Walker’s guitar dropping shades of sound (with the use of the reverse effect intermittently) until we fade out the way we came in. With a shadow of sound, isolated….remote….alone. Much like our hero. Wether he lives to solve another case, or the tempo was a reflection of his heart slowing and reminding him that is not long for this world….that is up to the listener.
And that is just the opener….
Our second track, ‘Phantom Carousel’ has a strong ‘in medias res’ quality. It sound as if we have walked in on a conversation that is important and leaves little room for intrusion. I am left wondering if this was a late addition to the album or if happened later in the recording process. It seems completely different from the opener and more free form than the driving pulse of ‘Little Twisters.’ One of main themes of the track I enjoyed were these small melodies, one bar, two bars that are more of characteristic leitmotifs rather than a melody you will isolate and sing on the way to the pizza joint tomorrow night. He were start getting until the extreme high end of the guitar, this is deftly done by Walker as it invites the listener in, instead of pushing them away.
The third delivery ‘Rain In May’ feels like it exists in the same story as ‘Little Twisters.’ Driving rhythm, reverb laden guitar….but there is a different mood in this one. More optimism than cynicism, more weekend road trip than night time flight with the police close behind. ‘Rain In May’ is the song that your car stereo deserves. Turn it on, roll the windows down and let the music breath. You won’t be disappointed.
Track four has one of my favorite guitar tricks in the world. You here it in so many genres of music with some of the best delivery coming out of the rock and country schools of guitar. Like garlic, ranch dressing, sweet tea, bread and strawberry jelly…I simply cannot get enough. Late one night last week relaxing at home I had ‘Sanctuary’ on my CD player(!) and heard and it stopped me in my tacks, and I soon found myself standing in front of my speakers, like fly drawn to the light of a neon window in the July Lousinana Bayou. This guitar technique? Bottleneck. Man, I can’t get enough of it. ‘Kannon’ waits to about the third act of the song…..the song….fades…….Bill keeps us waiting…the song is looking for the release and …..boom. Bill drops the bottleneck right in the middle range of the song. Then we fade out.
‘Crazy Cat’ lends itself to give credit where credit is due to the post production and sound designer and editor of ‘Sanctuary,’ Erdem Helvacioglu. (Easier to type than to say.) Helvacioglu manages album wide to keep the EQ modalities in a very warm arena for the listener’s ear. As an armchair audiofile, and still very much a student of sound design, I culled a lot from the layering of tracks and how they sit overall in the mix. How much of this magic is Bill’s and how much Erdem is responsible, is above my pay grade. ‘Crazy Cat’ is the shortest track on the album right behind a very taut closer ‘395’ that clocks in under two minutes.
I want to go over to track seven (‘Firecaster’) and showcase a texture that Bill utilizes on his guitar. I don’t know how he does it but it sound like a (Harmon) muted Trumpet. Very effective and with percussion being featured in the front of the mix more, it adds two brand new colors to the album. Very exciting to listen to and this track feels almost like a pop-up Jazz Club in the midst of the album!
If you look at the back cover of ‘Sanctuary; it features bill on a stack of boulders playing guitar in the sunshine and master of his domain. ‘Cass County Waltz’ has a the waltz feel to it, but it is more of a (subtle) folksy vibe more than powdered wigs and wanting to dispatch Mozart. If I had to match a visual Bill provides with us, it is the back cover to the eighth track of ‘Santcuary.’ It brings images of the isolated beauty Bjorn Isfalt underscores in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
‘A Dream of You’ plays like a Brian Eno-esque moment of “How much can we take out, and the song will still stand on it’s own?” The space in the album is much more effective than any note, texture or shading of tonality Walker delivers in this track. As a loop artists myself, and in and around “loopers” at home and abroad, silence is the last thing many loop based musicians will allow or invest in during a performance. The silences of ‘A Dream of You’ play all the right notes.
‘Sanctuary’ is an album in dire need of a movie studio to pick it up. I have listened to it numerous times, and every time a new element presents itself to me. The aural imagery provided is lucid and definitive. Bill Walker is based out of Santa Cruz, California where he keeps busy teaching, performing, inventing, putting on festivals, or being featured in Guitar Player magazine. His CD can be purchased through his website and is available for download on CD Baby.
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
March 4th, 2015
Just Alliance's Blog
Thoughts, ideas and musical musings from this Silver State Loop Artist.