Tonight while checking Holocene’s show calendar I noticed Chicago buzz artist Willis Earl Beal on tap for May. Having read about Beal’s odd vocal stylings but not heard him I decided to look him up on YouTube. Maybe his show would be worth checking out, I reasoned.
“Take Me Away” off his recently released album Acousmatic Sorcery stood out among the tracks I listened to because it sounded like something my great-grandfather would have listened to had he been able to stream music on the Internet. Or maybe, just maybe, his great-grandfather.
Beal’s recording would feel at home in the days before Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. The humming at the song’s outset is both off-putting and awe-inspiring, like the soundtrack to the Underground Railroad. The percussion is something akin to the devil rejoicing in stealing Johnson’s soul.
Above all, “Take Me Away” meets at the intersection of an old negro spiritual and an exorcism. And I find it fascinating. This should have been the intro music to AMC’s “Hell On Wheels.” At least, then, the show would have had something going for it.
“Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord, I’m calling out to you, my Lord,” Beal screams toward song’s end, possessed by something terrible. It all raises the question: Can the Lord hear Satan’s cry? If so, does he ever respond?
I might have to attend Beal’s show to seek answers to these questions.