When it comes to most music scenes, it seems their rises and falls in terms of prominence is fairly well documented. Folk seems to break that pattern – away from the likes of Frank Turner, Laura Marling and Mumford And Sons, most of the genre’s modern success stories take place away from the spotlight. And to get to that point now, getting signed to behemoth folk label Xtra Mile Recordings is not a bad route to take. But for Will Varley, supporting The Proclaimers, Billy Bragg, and aforementioned stalwart Frank Turner has already given him plenty to put on his CV. He’s built up a modest but loyal fanbase, who have fallen in love with his storytelling – both the witty, hilarious side, and the emotional, often politically charged, serious side. On new album Kingsdown Sundown, Will’s said goodbye to songs akin to Talking Cat Blues and I Got This Email, focusing on more mature themes.
Those sillier songs were often the focus of Will’s previous releases (especially if you’ve been in attendance of one of his legendary live performances), so it’s certainly a noticeable change not having one in this tracklisting. What is present is eleven gorgeous tracks which totally immerse you in the lyrics of the wordsmith. What’s more is that personal experience on Varley’s part is drawn upon often this time around. Tracks that explore general issues or characters like Let Your Guard Down (which touchingly describes the story of a relationship from beginning to end) are less of a focus in favour of more autobiographical material like February Snow, a particularly heartbreaking account of loss, or Too Late, Too Soon, a poignant ode to bad timing. But of course, it wouldn’t be a Will Varley album without politics being at its core, and if you’re unsure on his own personal views, To Build A Wall and We Want Our Planet Back are perfect crash courses.
While there’s a large variety of topics being discussed on Kingsdown Sundown, it’s rather a different story instrumentally. All of the songs are accompanied with pretty picked acoustic guitar (with the occasional electric stab on We Want Our Planet Back). You’d be right to have doubts over the stark arrangement, but it does truly work – if the intricacy of the guitar isn’t enough to keep you hooked, then Will’s husky narration will do, and vice versa. Luckily though, there aren’t many times where this is needed, and it saves six and seven-minute-long tracks from feeling like just that. The minimalism is helped by the album’s production, too. In fact, there’s hardly any. All the tracks don’t seem to have had much done to them since the studio live rendition – it’s far from the clean, filed Postcards From Ursa Minor, but it does help make this Varley’s most consistent album to date.
The eleven songs all seem to be on a par with each other in the sense that there’s no particular standout. There aren’t many singalong choruses here, but the lyrical content is something to be admired more than anything else. That might make the album more forgettable in comparison to previous releases in some peoples’ eyes, but it cements the idea of the artist Will Varley wants to be. Maturity suits him well, and this album only shows that he is one of music’s best-hidden storytellers.
For fans of: Frank Turner, Bob Dylan, Beans On Toast
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Kingsdown Sundown’ by Will Varley is released on 4th November on Xtra Mile Recordings.